By Sugeeswara Senadhira/Daily News
Colombo, November 26: As a part of Russia’s endeavour to revitalize defence cooperation with South Asian friendly nations, Moscow’s top security official visited Sri Lanka earlier this week. The visit of Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolay Patrushev to India and Sri Lanka defined Moscow’s renewed focus on South Asia as it enhances defence partnerships with like-minded partners in the region.
Former Director of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB), Patrushev came to Sri Lanka after attending the ‘Delhi Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan’ in New Delhi. During his talks with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and top defence officials in Sri Lanka, he highlighted Russia’s emerging focus on the Indian Ocean region.
Like President Vladimir Putin, Patrushev is also a security and intelligence expert with experience in serving in the Committee for State Security (KGB) of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and of the Federal Security Service of Russia after the collapse of the USSR.
During the talks between President Rajapaksa and Patrushev, they reiterated the total commitment to further enhance bilateral cooperation and pointed out that an important milestone – the 65th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two nations – falls on February 19, 2022. President Rajapaksa said that Patrushev’s visit will further strengthen the ties between the two countries.
The President thanked Patrushev for providing 5,000 doses of Sputnik V vaccines and for Russia’s assistance in making the COVID-19 vaccination drive a success. Sri Lanka also wishes to expand its export product range under the Russian GSP scheme.
President Rajapaksa invited Russian investors to invest in the Colombo Port City, and in energy, pharmaceutical, ICT, agriculture, infrastructure, oil and gas exploration, and logistics sectors. The longstanding friendship between the two countries is marked by Russia’s continuous support to Sri Lanka at international forums. President Rajapaksa commended Russia’s role as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council in promoting the interests and concerns of developing countries in the areas of peace and security and expressed gratitude for Russia’s strong support to Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council sessions.
Chief of Defence Staff and Commander of the Army General Shavendra Silva and the Commander in Chief of the Russian Land Forces, General of the Army, Oleg Salyukov of the Russian Ministry of Defence.
During Sri Lanka’s 30 year long fight against terrorism, Russia extended continuous support by providing much-needed arms and ammunition and fighter aircraft and helicopters at a time when many Western countries were reluctant to provide such weapons. The President said Sri Lanka is ready to deepen bilateral cooperation in addressing extremism, terrorism, and cyber threats, including sharing of intelligence information and countering terrorist financing.
Two countries have entered into a military cooperation agreement and Russia has pledged to provide arms and equipment which are necessary to improve the military capacity of the Sri Lankan military. Russia said that “prospects for deepening cooperation” between the two countries were discussed during the security consultations between the Russian Security Chief and Sri Lankan defence officials. “The main attention was paid to the intensification of bilateral cooperation on anti-terrorist issues, including the establishment of an exchange of analytical materials on individuals and organisations involved in terrorist activities,” said Patrushev’s office. “In addition, threats in the field of information security, measures to combat crimes using information and communication technologies were considered in detail,” it added. Both countries also discussed issues of military and military-technical cooperation, topics related to ensuring social and political stability and law and order, sanitary and epidemiological well-being.
In recent years, there were several important visits by top defence officials of Russia and Sri Lanka to further augment the intensity of political dialogue and military cooperation. Last year Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Colombo. Last month, a squadron of the Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet, including the corvette Gremyashchiy and submarines Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and Volkhov, arrived at the Colombo Port in a show of strengthening relations between the Armed Forces of the two countries.
Chief of the Defence Staff and Army Commander General Shavendra Silva visited Moscow last month and held discussions with Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Land Forces General Oleg Salyukov on joint combat training events and the training of Lankan servicemen in the universities of the Russian Ministry of Defence. Members of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces were also among participants in the annual strategic-level ‘Exercise Zapad 2021’ held in September near Nizhniy Novogogard region in Russia.
General Shavendra Silva was given a formal and elegant Guard of Honour parade with four squads of the Russian Land Forces, together with a Russian Army band distinctively featured the significance and the recognition the Russian Land Forces attached to the visiting military dignitary from Sri Lanka. This is considered to be one of the highest honours presented in recent times to any visiting military commander.
General Shavendra Silva also visited the Moscow Higher Combined Arms Command School and held discussions with its Commandant, Major General Roman Binyukov, Division Commander of the 4th Guards Tank Division in Naro-Fominsk and the Commandant at Mikhailovskaya.
A Sri Lankan defence delegation had visited Moscow in September to participate in military forums and had held talks with the Russian Defence Ministry. The delegation also discussed participation in international military exercises and promoting ties between Russian and Sri Lankan defence education establishments.
After attaining independence in 1948, the then UNP Government was not prepared to have cordial relations with the socialist countries and the relationship between Sri Lanka and the USSR began to grow only after the transition in 1956 with the beginning of the tenure of Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who introduced a policy of neutrality in international affairs. Prime Minister Bandaranaike realised that the Soviet leaders showed an interest in emerging neutralist nation states through a new dimension. This important step laid the foundation to create cooperative and friendly relations between the two countries.
Sri Lanka-Russia defence cooperation
Subsequently, bilateral cooperation was extended to economic relations, setting up of a steel factory, providing scholarships to Sri Lankan students to study in Russian universities and cultural ties. The Russian airline Aeroflot has been flying to Sri Lanka since 1964. Russia has become one of Sri Lanka’s major tea buyers while also becoming a strategic import trade partner for the country.
The two Governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on military and technological-related issues in 2007, and from 2008 the Russian Government has provided short military training programmes for the Sri Lankan defence forces. As a result, Russian military assistance to Sri Lanka has paved the way for considerable Sri Lanka-Russia defence cooperation.
Russia has been playing a supportive role at the United Nation’s Security Council (UNSC) since the beginning of Sri Lanka’s post-war period. At the United Nations Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva, Russia has always remained beside Sri Lanka. This reflected that the Russians understand the reality and truth behind the Sri Lankan humanitarian operation in the North.
As the global and regional powers take a keen interest in Sri Lanka due to its geopolitical strategic positioning Sri Lanka remains neutral, but keeps friendly relations with every nation. Within this multipolar balance of power politics, the Sri Lanka-Russia nexus prevails as a strategically pivotal one for both nations. Moreover, the continuation of friendly relations with Sri Lanka would not be disadvantageous for Russia, especially if Sri Lanka turns into an attractive destination for foreign investments with advanced economic, social and infrastructural development. Russia is a very important partner for Sri Lanka’s tourist industry. Last year, when tourism was hard hit due to the COVID pandemic, nearly 50,000 Russian tourists visited Sri Lanka showing the potential of a rapid growth in tourist arrivals from Russia in the near future with the new normalization since the lifting of the lockdown.
The recent visit of Moscow’s top security official to Colombo and the growing Russia – Sri Lanka ties showcase the balanced foreign policy strategy of Sri Lanka.