Travel to Russia
I have often been asked when and how long my posting in Moscow was. My usual answer is about 3 years, from 1991 to early 1994 with a qualified clarification: one year of Gorbachev and two years of Yeltsin.
So I was in Moscow at the time of what we would now say "at the time of the regime change"
It was a profound and drastic change; a political, social and economic transformation from the Soviet Communist Empire, one of the two world superpowers, to a Russian Federation and other 15 more or less ethnic or nationalistic based independent republics with Mongolia as a sort of an additional liberated appendix.
I was fortunate to have had the opportunity of visiting the Soviet Union three or four times during the 1980’s on official missions pertaining to cultural, economic, civil aviation and political - security bilateral relations. I was also on an advanced mission to prepare for the Thai Prime Minister General Prem Tinsulanonda’s official visit to Moscow (as well as to Helsinki and Vienna), during which the Thai delegation was notified of the impending withdrawal of Vietnamese forces from Cambodia.
I was therefore familiar with the launching and initial implementation of the concept of Glasnost and Perestroika.
I was also a believer in the spirit and meaning of the concepts and especially in the genuine desire and sincerity of its initiator President Gorbachev.
So I went to Moscow with enthusiasm and eagerness. I witnessed and learned about the transformation while playing my part to strengthen the linkages between the two countries and peoples, as well as with other nearly independent republics and Mongolia to which I was also accredited.
However, within the context of the Cold War, there was a mutual negative perception of each other based on different and opposing ideological beliefs and socio-political security and socio-economic outlook and conduct.
How to overcome this mutual perception of the other party for having been "enemies" or "antagonists" was the question I pondered while venturing out to do my duty as the representative of the Kingdom of Thailand.
My main objective, therefore, was to make the Russians and other nationalities know about and appreciate Thailand as much as possible.
I was able to convince the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide me with a budget to undertake various promotional activities.
The message was: Thailand as a "must" for a touristic destination; Thailand as a source of consumer products; Thailand as a gateway to Southeast Asia. Thailand as an example of an open society and Thailand as a Kingdom with a visionary and dedicated monarch.
But it was not a one-sided affair. Russia had excelled in science and technology, sports and cultural performances. So Russia was invited to share its knowledge and knowhow both from the development cooperative activities and commercial exchanges point of view.
We organized jazz concerts playing the late King Bhumibol's compositions. We organized mobile exhibitions of tourist destinations and consumer products from one end of the Russian Federation (St. Petersburg) to another (Vladivostok). We also visited various capitals of the newly independent republics with our products and promotional materials. Incoming and outgoing trade missions were being sent as well. There was even a Thai energy delegation looking for opportunities of trade and investment in Russia and Central Asia.
In spite of the upheavals also and uncertainty, Thailand and the Soviet Union was able to conclude a rice trade deal of half a million tons.
Everyday existence was a bit dire due to the absence of the basic life of consumerism. However, one was able to enjoy the open-air markets of arts, crafts and antiques and of pets and exotic animals. In the evening, one was able to enjoy world-class ballets and concerts. There was even a gypsy theatre.
I was privileged to have been invited to give a speech on economic development at the Kremlin. My advice to the gathering was for Russia to "import" foreign experts from developing countries, especially from the Indian sub-continent to come and work hand in hand with the Russian counterparts at all levels of business, industries and administrative activities because Russia was still a "developing" country when it came to market economy. Russia should have therefore learned from "fellow" developing countries.
In one of the sessions with Mr. Eduard Shevardnadze, the then Soviet Foreign Minister at a working lunch with Asian-Pacific ambassadors, we were pointedly asking why there was no adequate planning and preparation for the transition from the Soviet system to a more liberal one. The reply was that both he and Mr. Gorbachev genuinely thought and believed that by giving freedom and by opening up, things would have fallen into places and modernity would have happened instantly.
But the stronger took advantage of the weak exploited the wealth and resources until Vladimir Putin came on to the scene. The Russians are fun-loving and cultured, kind hearted with immense intellectual capacity. Although throughout its history successive Russian and Soviet leaderships were often cruel and repressive.
To rebuild and to regain self-respect and international recognition as a Eurasia power, as well as to become a truly modern country, Russia and the Russian people have all the elements to do so and to achieve it. The present leadership must believe in the Russian ability and potentials. Decentralization, devolution, participation and empowerment should be the norm and the practice.
I wish Russia and her people well. I am optimistic of her bright future.
Mr. Kasit Piromya is a former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand (2008-2011). From 1990 to 1993 he served as Thai Ambassador to the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation.