Interview by Ambassador of Russia to Cambodia Anatoly Borovik to the Khmer Times
Closer diplomatic relationship between Cambodia and Russia
Taing Rinith / Khmer Times
The Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Cambodia, Mr. Anatoly Borovik, in an exclusive interview with Khmer Times reminiscences his experience in Cambodia while saying how he could effectively strengthen their diplomatic relationship and work together to further strengthen Russia’s contribution to the Kingdom’s development and economic growth.
KT: Thank you Your Excellency for granting an exclusive interview with Khmer Times. I was made to understand you are not a stranger to Cambodia and that you have friends here and speak the local language. Can you enlighten us whether it is your experience and knowledge of the Kingdom that played a role in your present posting as the Ambassador?
Borovik: That’s true, I studied Khmer language, history of the country and its development in the Moscow University. Since then, my life has special and close connection with Cambodia as I was here for 15 years before this posting came my way. It was in 1984 that I started my diplomatic career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of then Soviet Union, heading the Russian Centre of Science and Culture in Phnom Penh. I worked until 1997 and returned in the early part of the year 2000.
I was truly surprised and taken aback by the tremendous transformation and development Cambodia had gone through since the 1980s, especially its restoration after the Khmer Rouge regime, the Paris Peace Agreements, the settlement process in line with the Win-Win policy and the early years of the post-civil war developments. I saw the differences and the changes.
So, it’s a great honour and delight to return back to the Kingdom, see all the achievements made by the Cambodian people and what more to meet old friends. I must say, I hardly recognised Phnom Penh when I arrived. It’s been a long time since my last trip and stay here – the city has changed drastically.
Yes, my posting and stay here had a role in me being posted here as the Ambassador of Russia to Cambodia. I hope my knowledge and experience gained over the years will help in further promoting bilateral ties between the two nations.
KT: You arrived in Cambodia at a challenging time when the Kingdom is facing diplomatic pressure unprecedented in the past few years, especially from the West ranging from human rights, democracy and military bases. What is your take on this?
Borovik: Russia has always stood for the preservation of sovereignty, non-interference into the internal affairs of other states. No one has the right to dictate how one’s partner should develop interactions and enhance cooperation with others. I think the nations should work together when the leaders, the ministries and other relevant institutions express their readiness to cooperate for the betterment and growth of the nation.
All in all, every country has its own sets of problems. And there is a general understanding as to human rights protection and the need for intervention and advocacy. So, instead of blaming each other, we should use existing mechanisms to address the problems and take mutual efforts to improve the situation in general.
KT: As an ambassador, what do you plan to achieve in helping Cambodia to further excel politically, economically, bilaterally and in military training?
Borovik: Russia and Cambodia have a long history of friendship and fruitful cooperation. Relationship between then Soviet Union and Cambodia goes way back in 1956, and from the very beginning both states demonstrated their interest in deepening political and economic ties through dialogues. His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk visited the USSR several times, and it was the Soviet people who built the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital and Institute of Technology, as well as dispatched specialists for infrastructure development in Cambodia, such as the hydropower station on Kamchai river.
The period of 1980s was a remarkable time of excellent Soviet-Cambodian cooperation. Unfortunately, at that time only several states of former socialist block, including the USSR, supported Cambodia economically and politically, and even recognised its government. Since 1979 to 1990 an annual allocation of up to USD$100 was made, with more than USD$80 million from the USSR, to assist in the Kingdom’s restoration, economy, humanitarian and military aid.
So, those were great examples of successful cooperation of the past, and though the time and generations have changed, I will do my best to further strengthen the current relations within various dimensions.
Today Cambodia is one of Russia’s well-trusted partners, with good cooperation politically while addressing common issues and problems that arise globally and in the region. We will continue to work together for sustainable economic growth, bilateralism and all areas that the Kingdom needs our help and assistance.
Considering the current environment, especially the COVID-19 pandemic, there is and will be a lot of work to do to overcome its negative effects, restore business connections, tourist inflow, educational, cultural and youth exchanges.
KT: How is the bilateral trade and investment between Russia and Cambodia and how do you plan to further enhance and boost this. What are the main exports to Russia and imports from Russia?
Borovik: As of now the bilateral trade volume is not very high as end of last year it was about USD$246 million. It can be constituted as high as compared to a situation a decade ago when trade volume was seven times lower. I feel there still need to be a lot of work to be done to further expand bilateral commercial activity.
According to the Russian Federal Customs Service, the import to Russia from the Kingdom last year totaled USD$229.2 million, with our export to Cambodia was just USD$17 million.
Among the items exported to Cambodia were machinery, equipment and vehicles – the largest part of the export, as well as woodworking, pulp, paper industrial products, agricultural and chemical sectors. The majority of products imported by Russia from the Kingdom were textile (about 90%) and tanning.
I think that one of the reasons of a modest trade volume is that Cambodia and its market are still unfamiliar to Russian people, unlike its traditional trade partners in the Commonwealth of Independent States, Europe, East Asia. In this regard, with the right long-term promotion campaigns and traveling routes eased after the end of the pandemic, it would be possible to attract more entrepreneurs and companies to Cambodia, as well as more Cambodians to Russia.
Of course, nowadays we are living in another reality due to the impact of the spread of the coronavirus. Usual communications are disrupted, and today it is not so easy to arrive to the Kingdom as well as to Russia. It is unfortunate repercussion of the pandemic, which could be overcome only after all restrictions are lifted with successful containment of the COVID-19.
KT: Is there any particular field that Russian investors would be interested to invest in Cambodia?
Borovik: I believe that Cambodia has an attractive market to be tapped on by foreign investors including the Russians. I am looking at the agricultural sector which has great potential for further growth and expansion. Moreover, the Cambodian Government is also into developing smart cities and that means there will be great interest for foreign investors to come in in the area of construction and IT which I see as very promising.
These days the Kingdom is working with companies to study the market potentials and viabilities and are establishing contacts. Furthermore, there are many out there who are not familiar with Cambodia and are making enquiries and establishing contacts.
We have put in place operating mechanisms via the Inter-governmental Russia-Cambodia Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation established in 1997. It helps plan the prospects and implementation of the bilateral development in commercial areas, as well as in humanitarian and scientific dimension. We are also working on enhancing the operation of a bilateral high-level Working Group on the promotion of investment projects. Unfortunately, the pandemic affected the regular activity of these mechanisms, as well as some enterprises capacity to act in their normal way.
KT: Will Cambodia stand a chance to get the “Sputnik V” vaccine if there is request by the Government of Cambodia? How about the 2nd vaccine due in March? Would Cambodia be given or would be considered to be given the vaccine in sizable amount as a matter of political goodwill among two old friends?
Borovik: The issue on the Russian vaccine “Sputnik V” was raised during my meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen. The Embassy immediately notified the relevant Russian authorities about the discussion with the Prime Minister, and now the relevant authorities and experts are in contact with their counterparts in Russia.
I can only say they are in communication and a lot of discussion is underway as to the vaccine. So, I can only update once the talks are finalised.
At the moment, Sputnik V is having its post-registration clinical trials in Russia, involving 40,000 volunteers. The Russian Direct Investments Fund has already submitted an application to the World Health Organization for accelerated registration and prequalification of the medication. According to RDIF, the vaccine has demonstrated about 92% efficacy.
Due to positive outcomes, the Sputnik V vaccine has already been made available to the public, with vaccination drive recently launched in Russia. It was announced that by 10 December 2020 about 150,000 Russians have been vaccinated.
Apart from Sputnik V, the Vector State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology have also developed EpiVacCorona vaccine, which has also been registered and undergoing its post-registration trials.
KT: What are the main stumbling blocks to Cambodia-Russia relations and trade enhancement?
Borovik: Russia and Cambodia have long-standing partnership, based on friendship, mutual understanding and trust. Both states are cooperating within various international and regional structures, including active interactions in the UN and its bodies, ASEAN proposed platforms.
Nowadays bilateral economic engagement, communication between business community and financial dialogues are the main focus. Their expansion and enhancement correspond to mutual interests. Both sides are working in this direction. I hope that with our joint efforts in this dimension will have some achievements too.
KT: What activities have been put on hold or cancelled because of the pandemic, including exchanges and training in Russia?
Borovik: The pandemic has badly affected our regular interactions and many plans are currently disrupted. Various cultural, educational, and youth events usually organised in Russia are held with minimal attendance from the foreign guests, unless it is formatted via online formats.
As for the use of a video-conference format, there were online-meetings between Russian Ministry of Industry and Cambodian Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovations in late September, as well as between Siberian Association on International Cooperation and Cambodian Chamber of Commerce in early October.
Besides that, foreign ministries of both states actively use online communication nowadays. However, face-to-face meetings are of significance for substantial and effective cooperation. So, I hope that after the pandemic is over, normal communications are restored, and all events planned earlier will be carried out.
KT: How many Cambodians are there still in Russia and what are they doing? Could you also state how many Cambodian students are there and would Russia provide scholarships to Cambodians in the field of medicine, information technology and vocational training?
Borovik: The number of Cambodians living in Russia is quite small. There are about 500 students studying there, and most of them were given scholarships. For example, this year we have allocated 15 scholarships for the Cambodian students. The area of studies is vast and includes medicine, IT and humanity studies.
We are happy to see many of these graduates working in Cambodia and applying their skills and knowledge attained in Russian universities for their work and life in the Kingdom.
Russia and Cambodia have had a rich experience in academic exchange, studying in Russia. Such opportunities were provided by the Soviet Union since 1960s. Thus, academic interactions since 1980s resulted in about 8,000 Cambodians receiving education in the USSR and Russia.
In the past years, both states significantly improved the bases of interactions in this area, with Inter-governmental Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Education, Qualifications and Academic Degrees and Memorandum of Understanding in the Field of Higher Education between the relevant ministries were concluded. I will do my best to ensure there is continued efficient and effective collaboration between the education ministries, as well as universities. I hope that current fruitful cooperation will continue and flourish.
KT: What are your views on the West’s attack on Cambodia over its close ties with an eastern power, one with whom you have good relations with?
Borovik: Russia always stands for the international law and follows the UN Charter, which clearly states the principles of sovereign equality and non-interference into domestic affairs of any state. Every country is free in developing cooperation with its partners in political, trade, economic, humanitarian spheres, as well as in the security and military dimensions. In this connection, we respect the decisions by the Royal Government in determining Cambodia’s home and foreign policy.