Russian envoy hails stepped-up security cooperation with Thailand
Terrorist activity is making the world a more dangerous place but a recently stepped-up partnership between Thailand and Russia on security issues is already bearing fruit for both sides in terms of combatting cyber attacks and organised crime, according to the Russian ambassador to Thailand.
"We believe that terrorism is the biggest threat [globally]," ambassador Kirill Barsky told the Bangkok Post during an exclusive interview. The two countries will celebrate the 120th anniversary of bilateral ties in July.
"Russia has been tackling the problem both at home and with the cooperation of its [international] partners to deal with all aspects of terrorism," Mr Barsky said.
This includes "violent acts, ideological extremism, the financial sponsorship of terrorism, or acts that feed terrorism such as drug trafficking, human trafficking and organised crime", he added.
He said it was important all stakeholders understand the root causes of the problems to resolve them.
Mr Barsky also pointed to the success of the Russian-Thai Working Group on Security Cooperation, which held its second meeting in Bangkok in February of last year.
It is scheduled to convene again next month in Russia.
"I can proudly say that our work with the Royal Thai Police [RTP] has been the most successful example of cooperation in recent years," he said.
"We are working side by side to combat organised crime and drugs. We signed an important MoU in April 2015 and have established very strong cooperation in such areas as tackling cyber crime and cyber terrorism," he said.
Thailand has also agreed to let Russia set up an IT centre at the Faculty of Engineering at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, he added.
In March, Thailand's Immigration Bureau announced the arrest of seven Russian nationals, one of whom was said to wield much influence in Phuket. The man was wanted by the Russian police over a high-profile case of fraud. A crackdown in Pattaya also netted four Russian nationals with outstanding arrest warrants issued in Russia. Several also had Interpol red notices against them, the closest thing to an international arrest warrant.
He said that while Russian criminals are known to be operating or residing in Thailand there is no mafia presence here.
"I've been working in Thailand for two and a half years," he said.
"I know the Russian community [here] pretty well now. I can assure you that there is no such thing as a Russian mafia in Thailand.
"There are Russian citizens, unfortunately, who believe that Thailand may be a safe haven where they can hide to escape from prosecution in Russia for crimes they have committed."
Some may have shifted "their criminal activities from Russia to Thailand, especially when they are related to drugs", he said. "They sometimes work together in groups." He also downplayed talk of Russian prostitutes working in the country, despite reports to the contrary from the Thai police.
"This is not a real issue in Thailand. We can only guess whether they are prostitutes from Russia or whether they just look like Russians but come from other countries. I don't know," he said.
As an example of enhanced cooperation, he said the RTP has in the past three years arrested more than 30 people wanted by Russian law enforcement agencies.
Bilateral military ties are also going from strength to strength, he said, noting that these took root when Prince Chakrabongse, the son of King Rama V, graduated from the General Staff Academy of the Russian Imperial Army in St Petersburg more than a century ago.
Russian navy warships made friendly visits to Thailand in 2015 and 2016.
A Russian military medical team, a hospital ship and rescue helicopters also took part in the Asean Defence Minister's Meeting-Plus and the Asean Military Medicine-Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Joint Exercise 2016 in Thailand.
Russia also helped to establish the Asean Centre for Military Medicine in Bangkok.
The two sides signed another deal, the inter-governmental Agreement on Military Cooperation, last May when Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha visited Russia.
This was preceded by two trips to the country last year by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, Gen Prawit Wongsuwon.
Subsequently, in the middle of last month, the Royal Thai Army (RTA) received Col-Gen Oleg Salyukov, commander-in-chief of the Russian Land Forces.
Ambassador Barsky also pointed to the RTA's interest in procuring more Russia-produced armaments and military equipment, and the Transport Ministry's interest in rail and construction products from Russia.
On the economic front, trade between the two countries now stands at US$1.96 billion, with Thai exports accounting for $577 million, local statistics show.
Russia's top exports to Thailand are crude oil, iron and steel products as well as fertiliser and pesticides.
Mr Barsky said Russian statistics show the trade deficit is improving and his country hopes to see bilateral trade rise.
He said this is likely if Thailand signs a free-trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union. Thailand filed an official application for the FTA in September 2016.
He also said Russia looks forward to welcoming more Thai tourists, with current numbers "disappointing".
"While the inflow of Russian tourists is very substantial in Thailand, you will be disappointed by how many Thai tourists go to Russia," he said.
Last year, 1,089,992 Russians visited Thailand compared to just 20,000 Thais heading the other way.
The two countries signed an agreement that year granting 30 days of visa-free entry for tourists of both nationalities.
He said ties and tourism would further improve as people from both countries learn more about one another.
"The biggest problem in our relations, according to my assessment, is the lack of knowledge and understanding of each other, and the lack of information about our respective countries, how to get along with each other, about our cultures, about our tradition, all about our habits," Mr Barsky said.
"It is important to urge Russian businessmen to be patient when they are doing business with Thailand.
"The rhythm of life in Russia is very fast.
"When I talk to business people, I say, 'Please, don't rush, take some time, try to get to know your partner better. Try to not bother your Thai partners during Songkran,' for example," he said with a good-natured smile.
The Russian ambassador said he hoped to see many cultural activities organised throughout the year by both sides to promote greater cultural understanding and closer ties.
Writers: Kornchanok Raksaseri and Prangthong Jitcharoenkul
Original at Bangkok Post website: http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/crime/1233250/closing-ranks-on-organised-crime