Having came here about two years ago, Russian Ambassador to Nepal Dr.Sergey Velichkin has been working to further strengthen Nepal-Russia relations. A well known expert on South Asia, ambassador Dr. Velichkin spoke to NEW SPOTLIGHT on various issues. Excerpts:
How do you see Nepal-Russia relations at present?
The relations between our two countries at present I would define as passing through a period of promising reinvigoration and search for new opportunities after several years of visible slowdown due to an understandable preoccupation with numerous domestic problems of scopeful historic transition in both countries. Last year - to be precise, on July 20 – we celebrated the 55th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between the two states. In the congratulatory messages exchanged between the foreign ministers a remarkable similarity of approaches towards the development of traditional friendly relations of respectful and mutually advantageous cooperation in various fields and active interaction on a wide range of global and regional issues of common interest was visible with both dignitaries, while recalling with warmth and pride milestones of our past achievements, emphasizing their intent to further enrich and broaden the Russian-Nepalese agenda in consonance with contemporary challenges and opportunities.
Do Nepal and Russia hold consultations?
As an example of the reinvigoration mentioned above I would like to refer to the renewal of the practice of regular consultations between the foreign ministries of the two countries, which were held at the joint secretaries’ level for the first time after an interval of 8 years in Moscow last summer, and the working visit of the then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Upendra Yadav after a gap of 6 years. The exchanges in Moscow confirmed commonality of views of Russia and Nepal on the priorities and values of their foreign policy agenda aimed at promoting cooperative multi-polarity and inviolability of international law.
Several agreements on exchanging views and experiences as well as visits of delegations, including for the purposes of identifying concrete fields and projects of cooperation relevant to needs of the two countries, have been initiated between some ministries and other state as well as non-governmental institutions of Russia and Nepal.
What agreement is there?
Just one but a valuable instance of above is provided by the Agreement on Cooperation signed between the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation in Moscow on July 25, 2011.
As Ambassador of Russia, I am full of hope that with the implementation of historic tasks of concluding the peace process and promulgating the new constitution in Nepal we will definitely see further expansion of the range of institutional links and project-specific joint ventures in our relationship.
As Russia has made great contributions to Nepal in the past providing scholarship to Nepalese in engineering, medical and other areas, what is the state of such program now?
Our cooperation in the field of education continues, including through providing scholarships of the Russian Government to those willing to receive higher education in a number of professional fields of relevance to development of Nepalese society and economy. At present more than 25 such scholarships are provided to Nepal annually. However currently many institutions of higher learning in Russia have arrangements for accepting foreign students on commercial basis as well. I know about young Nepalese availing of the opportunities of either kind with pleasure and success for the benefit of themselves and their country.
How many Nepalese went to Russian Universities and colleges in the past?
While I am not in a position to provide precise statistics, the estimate is more than 6000. May I add, that what is most important is the calibre of those graduates as highly qualified specialists and, from my personal experience of interacting with them, without visible exceptions - as superb human beings, both of which having enabled most of them to advance into the top leadership in their chosen fields to emerge as distinguished and towering figures of intellectual, academic and political life of their country.
Recently Nepal’s finance minister has said that they are going to request the Russian Federation to provide some support to start Janakpur Cigarette factory, which was constructed during the Soviet era. How do you look at it?
The said factory belongs to those milestones of our cooperation in the past, which were recognized as instrumental in laying down the foundations of emerging Nepalese industrial sector in the now seemingly so distant 60’s of the last century. I am quite sympathetic to the Nepalese government’s endeavors to revive it. It needs to be seen what are the feasible modalities of support in this case under the new realities of predominantly market oriented economic dynamics of the two countries. Some ongoing intergovernmental structural adjustments are also relevant in this regard.
Russian Federation is known for its expertise in hydropower sector and Russia had supported to construct some hydro power plants back in 1960-ies. Is there any possibility for such projects?
The hydropower sector in my view may indeed emerge as a highly feasible field of our bilateral cooperation. It has already been realized by both the countries as reflected in establishing the Joint Interministerial Working Group by the Energy Ministries of Russia and Nepal. The said group is meant to consider among other things all relevant possibilities for developing hydropower projects with the participation of prospective Russian partners. Deputy Chairman of the State Duma (Lower house) of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation Mr. Valery Yazev, who is also a prominent leader of the Russian energy industry, in the course of his substantive and frank exchanges with the leaders of Nepal’s business community during his visit to Kathmandu at the head of the first ever Russian Parliamentary delegation of this level in March last year, remarked that Nepal will have to create favourable and realistically internationally competitive investment environment to attract the capital, available in Russia with big time hydropower companies, under the present day conditions of the world-wide great demand for the projects of that kind.
There are large number of Nepalese living and working in Russia. How do you see their contribution in enhancing the relations between the two countries?
As per my knowledge there are between 200-250 Nepalese living and working in Russia, mostly in Moscow and St.Petersburg. Almost to a man they have graduated at one time or another from our Universities or other institutes of high learning. I must say that it is the non-resident Nepalese of Russia who initiated the establishment of the NRN World Association and have been in its leadership ever since. In fact on the 15 October 2011 Mr.Jiba Lamichanne, one of the leaders of Russia-based Nepalese Community was elected the President of the Association. The Nepalese based in Russia have contributed immensely to promoting the knowledge and acceptance of Nepal’s Culture and Civilization, its attraction as a superb tourist destination and its image as a genuine and trusted friend of Russia through organizing cultural programs and exhibitions and supporting such ventures as, for example, the publication of books on those subjects. I would single out the contribution of prominent scholar Dr.Krishna Prakash Shrestha, who has been living in Moscow for the last half a century and has authored numerous books, articles, translations and poetry dedicated to the course of promoting friendship between Nepal and Russia.
How do you see the contribution of Russia based Nepali?
A truly unique example of such a contribution is the Russia-based Nepalese co-sponsorship with an inspired Russian industrialist and philanthropist Ruslan Bayramov of the construction of “The Nepal House” – a Cultural Center of your country fully equipped to disseminate information and knowledge of every kind about the Himalayan Republic – an original architectural ensemble artistically built in traditional Nepalese style within the framework of “Etnomir” project in Kaluzhskaya region of the Russian heartland 200 km to the south from Moscow. It was inaugurated in July last year by the visiting Foreign Minister of this country in the presence of Russian and Nepalese dignitaries, including delegates from over 30 countries to the Regional NRN Conference held in Moscow at that time. It may surely serve an example to all other Nepalese Communities overseas of how to promote their country abroad.
How Nepalese community have been contributing in Russia?
In addition to what I have already said members of the Nepalese Community are engaged in running their own private enterprises of productive and commercial nature. Some of them have established themselves as reputed and well known locally members of Russian business community enjoying respect and sympathy for their skill and talent as well as for their law-abiding and cooperative ways. I personally heard a highly favourable assessment of their contribution publicly made in his speech at the inauguration of the already mentioned by me Regional NRN Conference in Moscow by the Chairman of the Moscow City Duma (“City Parliament”) U.Platonov.
What is the current trade volume between Nepal and Russia?
The current trade volume between Nepal and Russia is more an illustration of the constraints experienced by our commercial exchanges as a result of the previously mentioned general slowdown in our relations due to our countries’ preoccupations with challenges of domestic transition, rather than a reflection on the potential of our trade. In the year of 2010 it amounted to just $ 2.8 mln with the Russian exports (some machines and equipment, metals like copperware, newsprints) equaling $ 2.0 mln while the Nepalese import (mostly textiles and footwear, as well as some handicrafts and jewelry) not even reaching a million in total! Even as recently as in fiscal year 2008/2009 we had a trade volume of $ 15.6 mln. To my mind the Nepalese business community should avail with more vigour of the opportunities offered by enormous and expanding Russian market through the newly established link between the FNCCI and the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Of great and still not wholly used potential is the Nepal-Russia Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
What is your view on ongoing political transition in Nepal?
I consider myself privileged to be a witness to a truly historic transition unveiling in Nepal. To a Russian observer many complexities and intricacies of diverse challenges faced simultaneously by your country are perhaps more comprehensible given our own recent historical experiences. Therefore appreciating much of popular impatience with and criticism of the nation’s political leaders, I am convinced that under the circumstances they have coped with the tasks, arising from the need to complete the peace process and preparing the new constitution, with next to exemplary courage, perseverance and ingenuity.
What is your view on political process?
Of course, the primary reason for the success of the political process which we may foresee soon now with much more certainty than even a few weeks before, is fundamentally a result of unique resilience, patience and tolerance of the wide masses of common Nepalese people as well as a tribute to the centuries-old glorious civilizational tradition and the proud history of a nation who, having conquered and culturally transformed one of the most difficult mountainous terrains in the world, have been never subjugated by colonial invaders.
Do you think Nepal will make progress and peace and constitution?
I am absolutely convinced that Nepal will very soon have a new constitution embodying longstanding aspirations of its people for democracy, justice and equitable dynamic socio-economic development. Despite far from simple countenance of a highly diverse Nepali society ruling out easy immediate solutions we have every reason to expect with its adoption a prolonged period of peaceful firmament of democratic institutions, rule of law, economic upgradation and social upliftment, provided predominant political and community leaders act with a sense of responsibility and exhibit the vision expected of them. Given abundance of water resourses and other bounties of nature, largely unexplored even now, and above all the stamina and richness with talent of its hardworking people Nepal is guaranteed breathtaking progress in the future.
Nepal is sandwiched between two big countries India and China and Russia has good relations with both the neighbours. How can Russia support Nepal to become stable and prosperous?
Since you have mentioned the facts of geography, it would be appropriate to remind that Russia is a Eurasian country with its vast trans-Ural expanses making it the biggest country of Asian continent. It is quite natural that historically we are inseparably connected with many countries of the region. Our advanced strategic partnership with India and China is well known. It has been developing dynamically and successfully both bilaterally and within such multilateral associations as BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the RIC format.
While the BRICS, as witnessed by world reaction to its most recent Delhi Summit held on March 29 this year, has firmly established itself in the international arena emerging as a weighty factor in favour of much needed reform of global governance, prioritizing modernizing international currency and financial system, the Shanghai Cooperation organization proved itself a major bulwark of regional cooperation in Central and South Asia focussing on countering terrorism, narcotraffic and other forms of organized transborder crime.
What is RIC?
Less covered by the press here is the RIC (Russia, India and China) which I find highly relevant to promoting good neighbourly relations in this part of Asia. By the way foreign ministers of the RIC are holding their 11th regular meeting in Moscow on April 13 to discuss topics like Afghanistan, Middle East, and Iranian and Korean nuclear problems, trilateral cooperation within various regional interstate forums and exchange views on matters of developing practical trilateral interaction.
I believe that the best way to support stability and prosperity of Nepal as well as other countries of the region is to implement the joint initiative taken by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao in September 2010, when they called on all nations of the Asia Pacific region to respect sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, not to interfere in the internal affairs of each other; to reaffirm the commitment to the principle of equal and indivisible security as well as the defensive nature of their military policy; not to use or threaten to use military force; not to take or support any actions aimed at overthrowing governments or undermining the stability of other states; to settle differences by peaceful political and diplomatic means based on the principles of common understanding and readiness to seek compromise; to strengthen cooperation in counteracting unconventional security threats; to develop bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the military sphere not directed against third countries as well as develop cross-border cooperation and people-to-people contacts.
How Russia sees Asia-Pacific region?
We believe that this initiative can become a uniting idea for the Asia-Pacific. Positive response from many major Asia-Pacific countries proves that these principles can become a solid basis for elaborating a legally binding «code of conduct» for the region. We believe that it is time to explore political and legal options for their implementation.
I would like to add that in their Joint Statement Furthering the Strategic Partnership to Meet the Challenges of a Changing World adopted during President Medvedev’s Delhi visit in December last, the two sides also reiterated their support to the creation of a transparent, open, comprehensive and balanced architecture of security and cooperation in the region based on the recognized principles of international law as well as respect for the legitimate interests of all states. They emphasized their commitment to the principle of indivisibility of security, unacceptability of attempts to enhance their own security to the detriment of other states' security, inadmissibility of preservation and creation of new dividing lines.
And of course we believe that our bilateral cooperation as well will continue in the future to contribute to Nepal’s endeavors for strengthening stability and bringing prosperity to its people.
Your country recently held general elections for parliament (Duma) and presidential elections and there were reportedly some controversies? What is it all about?
It is only natural that elections in Russia have become a hot subject widely discussed all over the world considering the countriy’s global weight and the need for other international players to take it into account in the pursuit of their own interests.
The sheer scope of problems the Russian society is faced with at the current stage of its historical transition, supplemented by the fallout of the global financial crisis, has generated a churning in the Russian society taking the shape of a vigorous debate on the substance of further economic reform and measures to modernize the country and fight corruption. To an insider it is quite clear that the Russian society has become better informed and more mature and consequently more demanding to its politicians. It is basically this trend, that has been reflected in the results of the December general elections to the State Duma (Parliament’s Lower House), with the majority of the ruling United Russia party substantially decreasing and the three opposition (Communist, nationalist Liberal Democratic and social-democratic Fair Russia) parties represented in the parliament proportionally gaining in strength. However, it was the rightist parties, which altogether received less than 4 % of the national vote and did not therefore obtain any membership in the Duma (which requires at least 5 % of the national vote for a party), and above all political groups, unregistered as parties due to their failure to recruit the membership required by law for the purpose, which started a very vocal protest campaign in Moscow and, with a much less public response, some other Russian cities alleging violations of voting rules. Interestingly they were essentially alleging unfair treatment of the “parliamentary” opposition parties mentioned above, whose programmes are diametrically opposed to the thrust of the platforms of these self-styled “Liberal”, more often called “Pro-western”, fringe parties and groups.
How do you explain the controversy?
The controversies you mentioned were mostly their sweeping allegations, which were raging in the social networks with progressively decreasing impact on the number of participants in increasingly infrequent meetings almost exclusively of the initiated, though generously covered in a truly bombastic style by the western media.
The President and the government responding to criticism initiated measures to make voting and counting procedures more transparent by installing video-observation cameras accessible to everybody willing via the Net and increasing possibility for opposition parties and independent observers to be present at the polling stations. Despite that even before the vote on March 4 from the trend of reporting in the Western press, based exclusively on their using the same set of “Liberal” sites and interviewing the same “committed” people, it was clear that presidential elections would be characterized as “unfair”. That is what happened though the foreign observers present during the voting itself could not report scopeful violations. While leaving to the courts to establish the truth behind those of the allegations, which are substantiated enough, though even then mostly seem to be a product of local bureaucratic overzealousness, it is very difficult to challenge the validity of election, at which the winner Mr.Vladimir Putin has received over 63% of the national vote with the nearest challenger the communist leader Mr.Gennady Zyuganov capturing half of the rest.