New Russian Ambassador to Nepal, Aleksei A Novikov, spoke to Nepali Times about the prospect of high-level visits by Russian leaders to Nepal in 2020, and the potential for reviving economic, cultural and political exchanges between the two countries. Excerpts:
Nepali Times: Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali met Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in November and extended an invitation on behalf of President Bidya Devi Bhandari to President Vladimir Putin to visit Nepal. How likely is that visit?
Ambassador Novikov: During the talks with Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister Gyawali indeed availed himself of the opportunity to hand over an invitation from President Bidya Devi Bhandari to the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, and an invitation from Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev to visit Nepal at any convenient time. Besides, he also handed to the Foreign Minister an invitation to take part in the first meeting of the international forum, Sagarmatha Dialogue, on 2-4 April 2020. Minister Lavrov assured Minister Gyawali that Russia would consider the invitations, and that visits would depend on schedules.
What else was discussed?
The negotiations were quite productive. This was the first official visit by Nepal’s foreign minister to Russia since 2005. Both sides admitted that the potential for trade and economic relations between Russia and Nepal is not fully used. That is why, with the view of increasing bilateral turnover, they decided to widen the list of goods for mutual trade. Nepal also accepted Russia’s proposal to renew meetings of the existing working group on energy cooperation, which was established in 2013.
Nepal is popular with Russian tourists, even though their number is relatively small, with 11,000 Russians visiting Nepal in 2018. But this is expected to grow next year as Russia fully supports the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign. The foreign ministers also agreed to foster the development of bilateral cooperation, especially in the areas of investment, trade, tourism, education, energy, culture and industrial and social infrastructure development.
Lumbini Museum exhibition in Burma, Nepali Times
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How would you estimate the prospects for further development of bilateral cooperation after the ministerial meeting?
The foreign ministers of Russia and Nepal agreed to move forward on improving the legal basis of bilateral relations, migration, re-admission, emergency response and cooperation between television channels of Russia and Nepal. We specifically focused on the need to resolve issues of aligning the requirements for Russians in Nepal and Nepalis in Russia, especially in cases of mixed families.
The two sides also noted the progress in development of political dialogue between the two countries. Russia welcomes Nepal’s interest in more active participation within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Moscow considers that Nepal should make the most out of its status as a SCO dialogue partner.
What is your opinion about the future of bilateral military-technical cooperation?
Russian aircraft have a good track record in the mountains of Nepal. Previously delivered Mi-17 helicopters operate in Nepal, and there are further plans for cooperation in this area. We believe that bilateral military-technical cooperation has very good prospects, and the foreign ministers of our countries also agreed on the necessity of signing a mutual agreement in the future.
Are there any signs that bilateral ties will be revived to pre-1990 levels?
Russia attaches great importance to the development of relations with Nepal. We have a rich history of cooperation in economic, cultural, educational and technical spheres. Although our countries are geographically separated, there has been a mutual affinity between Russia and Nepal ever since diplomatic relations were established. This year, we celebrated the 63rd anniversary of establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations, with the participation of Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali and other officials.
Cultural ties between our countries are age-old. From Lumbini the Buddha’s teachings spread across the Himalaya to the Central Asian steppes to Buriyatia, Tuva and Kalmykia, contemporary Russian regions inhabited predominantly by followers of Buddhism.
The first visit to Nepal by a Russian was by the orientalist Ivan Pavlovich Minaev, in 1875. He studied local culture and even composed a dictionary of Newari language. Then, of course, there was the Russian expat Boris Lissanevich, who did so much to open Nepal to foreigners as a major global tourist destination in the 1950s.
King Mahendra visited Moscow in 1958, and there was a visit to Kathmandu in 1960 by the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, KE Voroshilov. These visits laid a solid ground for cooperation. In the 1960s and ’80s our country constructed several facilities here, such as the Panauti hydropower station, the Kanti Children’s Hospital, a sugar mill and an agricultural tools factory in Birganj, a 110km section of the East-West Highway, the Janakpur Cigarette Factory, etc.
Moscow also started providing Nepalis with opportunities for higher education in 1957, after which more than 100 scholarships a year were granted to young Nepalis, which were highly appreciated here. Our country continues to provide Nepali people with scholarships, although fewer than earlier, but their number is steadily rising to previous levels. Many alumni of Soviet and Russian universities hold important posts in state and private organisations and make significant contributions to the prosperity of Nepal.
Our country’s contribution to the development of Nepal is a stable foundation for our bilateral relations. Starting from the 2000s, Russia-Nepal ties have been broadening and deepening. Now, after Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali’s trip to Russia, we have every reason to count on gradual growth in the volume and quality of current cooperation between our friendly countries.