'Pragmatic' Singapore could show interest in Russian arms - Russian envoy

Unloading fish in the Vladivostok harbour.

Unloading fish in the Vladivostok harbour.

Vladimir Sayapin/TASS
In an interview with RBTH, Russian Ambassador to Singapore Andrey Tatarinov spoke about Russia’s plans to boost bilateral ties with the city-state, and spelled out Moscow’s priorities in the Asia-Pacific region.

Andrey Tatarinov, Russia's Ambassador to Singapore, used to head the Third Asian Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is responsible for ASEAN countries, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Oceania. Thanks to this experience, he has a good understanding of Russia’s goals and objectives in the Asia-Pacific region.

Tatarinov says Moscow has always been focused on Asia, and that it is a popular misconception that Russia’s so-called ‘Asian pivot’ began just two years ago, and was a result of the Ukrainian crisis. In this wide-ranging interview, the ambassador talks about ways to boost Russia-Singapore ties and increase Russia’s presence in the neighbourhood. 

What are Russia’s main long-term goals in the Asia-Pacific region? 

The center of gravity of global economics and politics is shifting to the Asia-Pacific, so we are interested in active participation in all areas of its development. 

First of all, Russia stands for normalization of the military and political situation in the region. Countries are increasing their military arsenal. There is a growing danger of a regional arms race. 

We believe that any inter-state dispute settlement is possible only through diplomacy and principles of international law. Russia launched the dialogue on a new regional security architecture in the framework of the East Asia Summits. Five rounds of consultations have been held so far.

Russia will continue to develop cooperation with its regional partners both on a bilateral basis and in various integration mechanisms. Our engagement in the Asia-Pacific opens up additional opportunities for economic modernization of regions of Siberia and the Russian Far East. 

At the Russia-ASEAN summit in Sochi we have also embarked on the course of the establishment of strategic partnership with ASEAN, which requires increased commitment from both sides and, apparently, will determine the future of our relations with Southeast Asia.

In an interview with RBTH, the Minister for Trade of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) Veronika Nikishina said the EAEU expects a working group to begin a feasibility study on a free trade agreement (FTA) with Singapore. She said a FTA would not bring much benefit if it does not cover services and investments. Meanwhile, the EAEU has no mandate to discuss issues beyond the scope of tariff regulation. What are the prospects of services and investments being included in the FTA talks with Singapore?

Services and investments are important parts of our trade and economic cooperation with Singapore and, of course, we are interested in attracting investments from Singapore to Russia. The question is whether the member countries of the EAEU would be willing to upgrade the regulation of trade in services and investments to the supranational level. [...] I believe that at the end of the day everyone will see the benefits of an open market for companies from Singapore.

For Russia, it is important to conclude such agreement with Singapore because this country is a leader in trade liberalization. It would become a major step towards FTA between the EAEU and ASEAN. This idea was put forward by the Russian President and has received support of ASEAN colleagues at the summit in Sochi. 

Addressing an Indian audience, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that he wanted "to see India involved vigorously and actively in the region beyond the Indian Ocean for trade, communications and stability," but New Delhi, despite having interests in Southeast Asia, “has not pursued it as vigorously as other powers.” What prevents Russia from defending its economic interests in the region more aggressively? 

Bilateral trade between Russia and Singapore is well below potential at the moment. Russia is only the 21st largest trading partner of Singapore (Annual bilateral trade has increased fourfold from 2006 and stood at $5.8 billion in 2015 - RBTH). 

This is due to falling prices on oil, which occupies a prominent place in the structure of Russian exports. However, if we don’t talk about numbers, but the physical volumes, trade relations are developing and our imports have increased.

The main task is to convert the potential of economic relations into specific commercial and investment projects. Much depends on Russian businesses, and how ready they are to compete in foreign markets. Singapore is the most open economy in the world.

What is the impact of the Western sanctions on Russia’s economic relations with Singapore? 

The interest of Singapore to strengthen its economic presence in Russia is pragmatic and sustainable. Singapore has not joined the sanctions, although they, admittedly, have a definite deterrent effect on a number of local companies that are closely tied to the US banks and the US market. 

However, this applies only to some companies. The majority soberly assesses the situation and seeks new opportunities to expand commercial and investment activities in our country. The government of Singapore supports the idea of Singaporean companies increasing their presence in Russia.

Can you name Singaporean companies that operate in Russia? 

Olam International owns 93 percent of LLC Rusmolco in the Penza region. It is one of the leading exporters of Russian grain. The company has invested more than $400 million in Russia.

Ambassador A.A.Tatarinov (R) is giving an interview to T. Gromenko (L) about Russian-Singapore relations. ​Source: Press photo .

Western sanctions do not dismay Food Empire (owner of the plant that produces coffee blends in the Moscow region - RBTH) and Delta-Wilmar (shareholder of edible oil plants in Nizhny Novgorod, Omsk and Orenburg regions - RBTH). 

The Republic of Tatarstan has established close cooperation with Singapore in the petrochemical industry, mechanical engineering, precision engineering, information technology and innovation. Singapore experts are part of the management team of Alabuga special economic zone. RSP Architects is the designer of the master plan of Technopark of Innopolis, which opened in Tatarstan in 2015. IDA International was involved in the logistics and information support of the Universiade-2013 in Kazan.

In March, Artur Chilingarov, special representative of the Russian President, said in an interview that Russia hopes to develop cooperation with Singapore in the Arctic.  How can the countries collaborate in this region?

We are ready to cooperate on all aspects of the Arctic Council agenda. In May 2013, Singapore has become an observer in the Council and today is actively involved in the activities of the working groups on emergency prevention, marine environment protection, preservation of flora and fauna. 

Singapore understands that the Northern Sea Route through the Arctic Ocean will open up great opportunities for the delivery of goods to Europe and that a lot of work needs to be done to make the route commercially viable. Singapore's experience in urban planning, transportation and seaport infrastructure building could be of use for Russia. 

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said that the Russian Navy is interested in using the port of Singapore for visits of Russian warships. 

Our ships conduct regular visits to Singapore. In May, Admiral Vinogradov, a large anti-submarine ship from the Pacific Fleet, took part in the international exercises in Singapore.

In June, the Varyag missile cruiser, flagship of the Pacific Fleet, called at the Changi naval base and hosted a reception on behalf of Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov for the participants of the 15th Shangri-La Dialogue.

In August, modern rescue ship Igor Belousov visited the Singapore port. This ship is equipped with the advanced hardware to assist the crews of distressed submarines. 

Singapore is very supportive in providing entry to the Russian military ships. I hope, therefore, that the number of ships will grow.

According to the latest news, Singapore has indefinitely postponed the purchase of American F35 jets. Maybe Russia could offer the Su-35? How good are the prospects for Russian arms sales to Singapore?

This issue should be discussed between the relevant Russian agencies and their Singapore partners. Of course, Singapore has traditionally focused on the procurement of military goods from Western producers. In addition, city-state is paying great attention to the development of its own defence industry. 

However, I believe that if we offer modern weapons on competitive terms, pragmatic Singaporeans would be ready for detailed discussions. 

Can Russia and Singapore cooperate in counter-terrorism?

At the end of 2014, Singapore joined the US-led anti-ISIS coalition. Last summer, Singapore provided refueling tanker aircraft for the operations in the Middle East. In early 2017 Singapore government plans to send a medical team and a detachment of the newly formed Army Deployment Force to Iraq.

Singapore is seriously concerned about the growing threat of terrorism in Southeast Asia and the active spread of ISIS propaganda in the region. They are worried about the increasing radicalization in neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia, and the fact that the Islamic State is getting new recruits to replenish its ranks from these countries.

Over the last two years, more than 10 Singapore citizens who wanted to join ISIS in Syria were arrested by the Singapore authorities. 

In this regard, our calls to strengthen anti-terrorist cooperation resonate. In March 2016, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Nikolai Patrushev visited Singapore and held talks with Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean and Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam. They confirmed Singapore’s interest in strengthening cooperation in this area. Possible options for collaboration are being worked out.

Read more: Can Moscow stop Kim Jong-un?

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