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Russia - Thailand Relations

There is an interesting well-spring of enduring pro-Russian sentiment among many Thai based on historical ties between the Siamese and Russian royal families: King Chulalongkorn and Tsar Nicholas II exchanged reciprocal visits in 1909-1910; and the Tsar provided what many Thai consider a critical boost to Siam's independence in the face of British and French pressure on Siam's borders and sovereignty.

In general Russia has had very little influence in Asia, particularly in Thailand. In the 21 Century, Russia was attempting to gain more influence with Thailand, geographically in the center of ASEAN, in an attempt to expand influence throughout the region, especially economically. Russia was trying to play a larger role in Southeast Asia, and attempted to raise its status in the region by offering itself as an alternative to the U.S. and China.

The first contacts between Russia and Siam (as Thailand was formerly known) are dated back to February 19, 1863 (new style calendar) when two Russian ships "Gaydamak" and "Novik" shored at the Bangkok Port on the Chao Raya River. In 1876-77 N.Miklukho-Maklay visited Thailand during his voyage to the countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

In the end of XIX century Siam considered Russia as an ally which can render assistance in the Siamese struggle for preserving independence against the colonial expansion of European Powers. The relations between the two countries received substantial progress. In 1882 the Russian naval squadron under the command of Rear Admiral A.B.Aslambekov came to Siam on the occasion of the Chakri Dynasty Centennial Celebration. In 1888 Russian musician P.Schurovskiy composed the National anthem of Siam, which was used up to 1932, and became afterwards the Royal Anthem of Thailand. Russian Crown Prince Nikholas visited Bangkok in 1891. The same year Siamese Prince Damrong came to Livadia (Crimea) where he was given an audience by the Russian Emperor Alexander III. In 1896 Siamese Prince Chira was a guest at the Coronation Ceremony of Emperor Nikholas II.

During the visit of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) to Russia on July 2-10, 1897 the diplomatic relations between Russia and Siam were formalised. On December 4, 1897 Mr. Alexander Olarovsky was appointed as Charge d'Affaires and Consul-General of Russia to Siam. On April 14, 1898 the Russian Consulate-General was opened in Bangkok. Later it was upgraded into the Mission which operated till 1917. On June 23, 1899 the Russian-Siamese Declaration of Jurisdiction, Trade and Navigation was signed in Bangkok. Regarding the friendly relations and the development of cultural exchange Siamese Royal Guards wore the uniform of Russian Guards up to the 1970s, and some elements of this uniform may be seen in their garments today.

At the end of XIX - beginning of XX centuries a number of Members of the Thai Royal Family and state officials visited Russia. Many young Thai aristocrats received education in St. Petersburg and Moscow. The son of King Chulalongkorn - H.R.H. Prince Chakrabongse stayed in Russia for several years, studied at the Corps des Pages and General Staff Academy, served in the Russian Army. In 1906 he married Ekaterina Desnitskaya.

A short pause in the bilateral relations appeared after 1917. The diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and Thailand were established on March 12, 1941. In 1947 the two sides signed the Agreement on the Exchange of Diplomatic Missions and a year later the Russian Embassy started to function in the Thai capital. During the Cold War the relations between the two countries developed ambivalently. Until the end of the 1970s there were neither conflicts nor any substantial progress.

In the mid-1970s, the Thai leadership began to question the wisdom of depending solely on a protective alliance with the United States. The communists had been successful in Indochina, and the United States role in the region had declined, while the Soviet Union was increasing its support for Thailand's traditional regional rival, Vietnam. Accordingly, Thailand established diplomatic relations with China in 1975, a step that harmonized with the new policy of accommodation between the United States and China. For Thailand this pragmatic course seemed wise in view of the growing threat posed by Vietnam. Once again, Thai flexibility in national security matters reflected the traditional analogy of bamboo bending with the wind.

Although Thai flexibility improved relations with Vietnam, the Thai viewed the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in 1978 between Hanoi and Moscow, combined with Vietnam's continued domination of Laos and the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, as a serious threat to Thailand's national security.

The new impetus to the bilateral relations was given by the first official visit of Mr. Kriangsak Chamanan, Prime-Minister of Thailand, to the Soviet Union in 1979. During this visit the Soviet-Thai Friendship Society was established.

During the 1980s, Thailand pursued three major foreign policy objectives: safeguarding national security, diversifying and expanding markets for Thai exports, and establishing cordial relations with all nations. On the whole, Thailand conducted what it called "omnidirectional foreign policy," and it did so in a highly pragmatic and flexible manner. Relations with such major powers as the United States, China, and Japan were increasingly cordial, and relations with the Soviet Union were correct.

The Thai were suspicious of Soviet intentions because Moscow was perceived to be aiding and abetting Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. While on a visit to Moscow in May 1988, Prime Minister Prem was informed by the Soviets of Vietnam's pledge to withdraw 50,000 troops from Cambodia in 1988. Hanoi already had withdrawn 20,000 troops in December 1987 and, according to its own projections, would be down to 50,000 troops by the end of 1988.

Since 1987, there were regular contacts and exchange of visits by foreign ministers of two countries. To commemorate the Centennial Jubilee of the establishment of diplomatic relations H.E. Mr. Evgeny Primakov, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, paid an official visit to Thailand. H.E. Mr. Igor Ivanov in his capacity of Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia visited Thailand twice in 2000 and in 2003.

An important milestone in the development of the Russian-Thai political dialogue was the first ever visit to Thailand of the head of the Russian state – the State Visit of H.E. Mr. Vladimir V. Putin, President of the Russian Federation, in October 2003, back to back with his participation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC) Leaders Week in Bangkok. Thai-Russian relations peaked during Queen Sirikit's State visit to Russia in July 2007 as Representative of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. During the Queen's trip, she visited Moscow and St. Petersburg, met Putin and then First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and was deeply impressed by the Mariinsky Ballet. Her Majesty’s visit was also marked by the festivities on the occasion of 110th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Siam (Thailand).

The Thai-Russia bilateral relationship blossomed after years of stagnation during the Cold War but had little forward momentum since then. The Thai-Russia bilateral relationship saw a period of re-engagement from 2002-03 during fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's outward-looking administration (2001-06), with Thaksin pursuing possible arms purchases from Russia in barter deals to boost Thai exports of agricultural products and to lessen Thai military dependence on U.S. systems. However, since Thaksin's ouster in a bloodless coup in 2006, Thailand has primarily been inwardly focused. For his part, Thaksin has continued to travel regularly to Moscow, including a 2-3 December 2009 visit, meeting quietly with Putin.

With Thailand's foreign policy centered primarily on ASEAN, the US, and China, there is little space for Russia to be an influential player. A 27 November 2009 visit to Bangkok by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sobyanin saw Thai pledges that the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister will travel to Russia in 2010. The resurgence occurred as a result of a flurry of high-level visits, first by then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to Russia in 2002 and a reciprocal visit by former President Vladimir Putin to Thailand in 2003.

For its part, Russia had advocated the construction of a regional energy facility in Thailand to be supplied by Russia, aspired to become a dialogue partner for the East Asia Summit (EAS), and expand arms exports in Southeast Asia. Thailand enjoyed a rapid expansion of Russian tourists visiting Thailand but has to deal with an unwanted side effect - the presence of Russian organized crime networks around the popular beach destinations of Pattaya and Phuket.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov delivered a keynote speech at Chulalongkorn University 24 July 2009 in which he outlined Russia's key economic goals for further cooperation and integration with the Thai economy. Lavrov highlighted Russia's eastern territories as holding natural resources -- such as oil, gas, and coal -- that could become the means to further engage with countries like Thailand. As such, one of Russia's critical goals was to promote energy cooperation between Russia and Thailand; Lavrov announced Russia's interest in developing a regional facility in Thailand for storing, processing and trading Russian oil and gas.

The number of Russian tourists to Thailand had steadily increased, to 300,000 Russians in 2008. Thailand was the number two destination in Asia for Russian tourists, who did not need visas for short visits. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) reported that as of October 2009, six direct scheduled weekly flights are being operated between Moscow and Bangkok by Thai Airways International and Aeroflot Russian Airlines. While traditionally the main destination for Russian tourists was Pattaya, leading to Russia establishing a Honorary Consul covering Pattaya, Rayong, and Chonburi on the eastern seaboard, in the past several years Russians had started flocking to the up-market resorts on Phuket on the Andaman coast in large numbers, where a second honorary consulate had been established.

Russian organized crime circles established a presence in Thailand in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Criminal networks composed of mostly Russian nationals operating in Pattaya and Phuket are responsible for the commission of numerous crimes, including extortion, money laundering, narcotics trafficking, real estate fraud, financial fraud, human smuggling, pandering, counterfeiting, document fraud, cybercrime, and illegal importation of cars.

The biggest headline grabber of 2008-09 was the arrest of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Russian arms merchant Viktor Bout was apprehended in a joint U.S.-Thai undercover DEA sting operation March 6, 2008 and remains in Thai custody. The U.S. requested extradition in order to try Bout in the Southern District of New York on a four-count indictment charging conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and officers; acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles; and provide material support to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a designated foreign terrorist organization.

Interaction of Russia and Thailand in multilateral diplomacy is based on two countries’ close or similar approaches to settlement of global and regional problems in the agenda of the United Nations as well as other international organizations and fora. Thailand co-sponsored or supported a number of Russian draft UN GA resolutions.

One area in which potential cooperation has not been fully realized is in military armaments. Thaksin started pursuing possible deals for Russian weapons in 2003 in exchange for debts Russia had incurred earlier in purchasing Thai rice. In 2005 Thaksin had attempted to broker a deal with Putin in which Russia would sell a dozen Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets to Thailand in exchange for 250,000 tons of frozen poultry worth $500 million. In the end, however, the deal fell through; in October 2007, Thailand signed a $1.1 billion agreement to purchase six Saab JAS-39 Gripen jets from Sweden.

Russian-Thai security and defense cooperation has been on the rise in recent years. In the spring of 2016, the two countries signed a military cooperation agreement. Russia also committed to supply two Sukhoi Superjet 100 regional jet airliners for use by the Thai Air Force. Thai Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwon made two visits to Russia over 2016. In the summer of 2016, for the first time ever, a Thai unit would participate in the 2017 International Army Games.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2017 19:21:52 ZULU