FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

Issue : December 2015 / January 2016
 

Kirill Barsky, ambassador to Thailand, speaks to Elite+ about business, tourism and cultural bonds between the two countries – and his affinity for Asia

His Excellency Kirill Barsky, former deputy director of the Asia-Pacific Cooperation Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry, minister counsellor at the Russian Embassy in Indonesia and the Russian President’s special envoy to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, has been serving his country in Asia for over 12 years. Now the ambassador of the Russian Federation to Thailand, he continues his government’s policies of strengthening economic and political cooperation between the two countries, aiming to bring the people closer through cultural and educational exchanges. He spoke to Elite+ on subjects related to his diplomatic role and those close to his heart.

 

What are your major policies to strengthen the bonds between Thailand and Russia?

Thailand and Russia are linked by a strong friendly bond which goes back to the late 19th century when King Rama V of Siam and Tsar Nicholas II established diplomatic relations and personal friendship. After the Cold War, we recreated the fond political relationship that has now reached an excellent phase and is a firm foundation for cooperation in various fields.

Thai and Russian governments have given a lot of emphasis on trade, economic and investment cooperation, not only on a G2G level but also between the countries’ business communities. Important intergovernmental and inter-agency agreements in the fields of energy, investment, tourism, transport and technologies have recently been signed. Just to name some, during Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Thailand in April 2015, memorandums of understanding on cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy and between Thailand’s BOI and Russia’s Ministry of Economic Development, a joint implementation plan on tourism activity between Thailand and Russia for 2015-2017, and a few understandings between private companies of the two countries were signed.

 

What sectors of Thailand are attractive to Russian investors?

We think Thailand is a very interesting place to invest in. Thailand has a highly developed economy, a strong industrial sector and huge shares of GDP from agriculture and services. It is also a transportation hub of Southeast Asia and has so much potential in science and technology production, be it innovation, biotechnology or telecommunication. I hope, with Thai people’s consent, we will soon be able to build gas- and coal-fired and maybe even nuclear power plants, which we will supply machines and engines to. Thailand and Russia can also cooperate in constructing a hydropower plant in Laos and electricity transmission lines from Laos to Thailand. We want to build railways here and we can supply rails, rolling stock, road-building machines, etc. Another attractive area is agriculture. Last year’s bilateral trade volume shows an increase in exports of agricultural products to Russia.

Not only Russians are increasing investment in Thailand. Thai businessmen are also expanding investment in Russia, particularly in agriculture. The CP Group has already invested over US$300 million, and has plans to invest up to $1 billion in the next three to four years to build more swine farms, feed mills and meat processing plants. Sutech Engineering Co has just finished negotiations with the Russian authorities on construction of a sugar plant in the Russian far east. I hope these examples will encourage other Thai companies to follow suit.

 

Some Thais have negative images of Russia, i.e. as a former leader of communist ideology that was against individuality, for abuse of nuclear power, or mafia organizations. What are your views on this?

I believe Thais have positive thoughts about Russia, based on my interactions with both Thai high society people such as government officials and businesspeople, and ordinary people on the street. Communism is a part of our history. We were inspired by communist ideals which are not bad at all, and lots of things should be picked up from them.

However, we are now a democratic country with a strong open-market economy. We have a strong army and possess nuclear weapons. But we are a peaceful nation and we don’t use nuclear power for destructive purposes. Our nuclear power plants are being built in 30 countries around the world. We have started construction in Vietnam, have just finalized procedures with Indonesia, and are now negotiating about 10 more projects, some of which are in Southeast Asia.

However, for those who still cling to such negative perspectives, I encourage them not to buy propaganda which often comes from Western mass media, and to be sceptical about media that paints my country black, rather than to see both the black and white. Plenty of sources, such as Russian embassy websites, have accurate and updated information. Travel to Russia to discover who we really are. If people look at us with an open mind, they’ll find that we have a vast beautiful territory inhabited by a good bunch of nice, highly cultured and educated people.

 

How would you describe Russia as a travel destination for Thais, and when is the best time to visit?

Russia has a very diverse and vibrant culture. Our architecture, history, folk traditions, arts and crafts are fabulous. Our people are hospitable. In fact, you may be surprised that our people’s character is similar to Thais. We are the largest country in the world by area. Apart from the must-dos like visiting Moscow, Saint Petersburg and riding the Trans-Siberian Railway, our small towns are the cradles of our country’s old and unique traditions. Suzdal has a population of 10,000 and area of 15,000 square km, but on this tiny piece of land there are 53 churches, chapels and monasteries. And they were not built to attract tourists.

They’re original and bursting with 1,100 years of history. We have plenty of museums and libraries. Saint Petersburg alone has 221 museums, 45 art galleries and 2,000 libraries. Perhaps that explains why Russia has the best population reading rate in the world. We have so many worldbestsellers such as Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Those who love performing arts can be entertained with endless classical and modern theatre and music events. Saint Petersburg alone has over 50 concert halls. Russian ballet, like Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, is the most frequently staged of its kind in the world.

As for when to go, it’s cold in Russia, but from May to September it’s warm and pleasant. It’s a definite place for a winter experience. You can experience minus-20 weather, breathe in frosty air, have snowball fights, then come back into a warm room, curl up near a fireplace and have a shot of vodka or a cup of hot tea. You will find so many attractive and exciting discoveries travelling in Russia.

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