Promising new beginning in Russia-Nepal relations
Sergey Vasilievich Velichkin has been Russia’s Ambassador to Nepal for the last five years. He left Nepal on October 1 after completing his assignment. During his time in Nepal, Russia-Nepal relations have seen resurgence after years of lull following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The number of Russian tourist arrival has almost doubled. While there may not have been any new big projects like in the Soviet days such as 109 km Dhalkebar-Pathlaiya section of the East West Highway and a number of industrial projects, engagement at both government and civil society level is on the rise.
John Narayan Parajuli spoke to the Russian ambassador about Nepal-Russia bilateral relationship, his tenure, prospects of high-level visits between the two countries, and his take on souring India-Nepal ties.
How would you describe your tenure in Nepal?
I consider my mission very successful. We have achieved several things, which I call good beginning. We have continued interaction based on mutual understanding. There have been various forums for interactions and exchange based on shared positions. But let me single out one very important and promising beginning. Nepal has become a dialogue partner for Sanghai Cooperation Organization in July this year and this opens up tremendous possibilities for projection of Nepal’s national interest, regionally and also globally, and the development of our relationship bilaterally. During my time, agreement between the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation and Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industry was signed in 2011. It was very remarkable exchange of delegations. Some of them very promising, but unfortunately not much follow up. There have been some concrete discussions on hydropower without follow up though. The traffic of tourists [from Russia] has increased. When I came here in 2010, it was 5,000. Last year it reached 9,500. This is significant. It would be very unfair if I don’t mention military and technical cooperation. The two helicopters Mi17 V5 that arrived just in the wake of the earthquake. They were procured by Nepal, but we brought them as soon as it became logistically possible. This is the best helicopter for Nepali terrain.
Any prospect of exchange of high level visits?
I don’t think it is on the cards right now. We all know there will be change of the government as per the constitution. So the government will have to be formed and that it will need to settle down. Realistically, we need to build new agendas based on the priorities of the new government in implementing the constitution. Russia will be with you and has been throughout the constitution making process.
A lot has happened in Nepal during your tenure. Are you happy how the events have unfolded?
I am basically happy. Being an Indologist and with previous experience in the subcontinent of many years, in India and Bangladesh, I know about the roots of this political volatility. One should be realistic. In fact, one should be overwhelmed by the enormity of the achievement. Very few countries after bloody domestic conflicts like you had may boast that they have not had a slightest relapse into violence. This is simply a historic achievement. You had Army integration, you had second elections for the Constituent Assembly. This is no mean achievement by any standards. And now the sambidhan [constitution] has been delivered. This is a historic achievement. As so many things in history, when we are standing very closely to something, which had a creative build-up amid sound and fury, there will be cracks in the house. But this is recognised by the Nepali politicians who have negotiated this on behalf of the electorate which empowered them. Of course, there is great debate here. There is protest and some violence which the Nepalis don’t deserve. Maybe there is some possibility of improvement. All serious politicians acknowledge the need for improvement.
The fact is that the constitution, which fully meets the requirement and standards and which is really a very sophisticated document, is simply an irreversible factor for further progress of Nepal.
As the Dean of Diplomatic Corps in Nepal, can you tell us why there was no joint statement of the international community on the constitution?
I have spent five years here. Initially, there were not many occasions when joint statement was made. In the past, the Secretary-General of the UN, or chief of his political department made more statements. My observation is that everybody supports the thrust of this change, everybody recognises the tremendous achievement which the constitution is.
But there maybe different nuances of emphasis on language as may be used depending on the style of diplomacy of a particular country. It is also coloured with emotions, a very emotional event-an outburst of nervous and emotional energy of 30 million people. But there have been a quite number of statements by individual countries.
The government of Nepal has concluded that India has imposed a blockade on Nepal, do you have a view on this?
As far as my position of a Russian observer is concerned, I would say that I am very saddened by this event, by this controversy. But I must say that I fully understand the conflicting impulses behind the positions taken by the two sides. My attitude is not only that of an ambassador of a country, which has particularly, close relations with India and very friendly relations with Nepal, but of also of a man who has spent years and years in the subcontinent and knows that there might be such hiccups between the countries so essential to each others. It is more appropriate not to just speak of friendship among these countries but more of a family-like relationship.
And it is in families that sometimes very strong feelings are expressed. I am sure this will be resolved through negotiations and through dialogue. There is extensive relationship between the two countries at every level. The basis for mutual understanding by far exceeds any misunderstanding that might be there. I hope this is resolved soon for the benefit of both countries.
First published by The Kathmandu Post.
Courtesy: Russian Embassy in New Delhi.