Nepal government has appointed Milan Raj Tuladhar as its new Ambassador to Russia. Tuladhar assumes his office amid a critical time in history. Russia is waging a war in Ukraine, much to the disapprobation of the democratic countries around the world. Kamal Dev Bhattarai of ApEx talked to Tuladhar about the ongoing war, its implications to the larger world and the bilateral ties between Nepal and Russia.
How do you see the current state of Nepal-Russia relations?
Nepal and Russia share a deep and meaningful relationship since its establishment in 1956. Even during the difficult years of 1990s both in Nepal and Russia, we continued our bilateral engagements. Some of the countries had closed their embassies in Moscow during the period.
Russia has changed as a country since 2001 when the country started seeing a rapid growth in its economy. It, once again, became a superpower in the present multipolar world. So, our relationship with Russia is very important. Both countries place high priority on maintaining good relations.
How has the ongoing war impacted bilateral relations?
Well, I have to explain what Russia has to say in this regard. Russia does not call it a war, but it is “a limited military operation”. The insurgency in the eastern Ukraine called Donbas has been a well-known reality since 2014. In fact, the predominantly Russian-speaking people there have maintained their apprehension ever since the separation of Ukraine from the Soviet Union in 1991. In recent times, the situation has gotten more complicated for various reasons. We have always stood for peaceful settlement of all conflicts. One notable point here is that Russia has been advocating for increasing cooperation in Eurasia, which also offers us a good opportunity to augment our cooperation. The ongoing situation in east Europe should not come in the way of the development of our mutual relations.
What are your key priorities as a new ambassador to Russia?
Promotion of tourism is one of my key priorities. As per the record of the World Trade Organization, Russia was one of the largest tourism exporting countries before the covid pandemic. Post-pandemic, there is great potential in store for us. After I arrived here in Moscow, I have seen many such interests from the people here. In view of this, we have made available relevant materials in Russian language on our embassy website. I would also like to request hoteliers and other tourism entrepreneurs of Nepal to take some proactive action such as using Russian booking websites like Travel.ru and yandex.ru for providing links to their business and also establishing contacts with agents here.
Recently, there were issues with using booking.com and other sites here. Doing direct marketing with Russia would be highly profitable. We are talking about the market of 60m potential tourists here.
I also see a scope for religious relations. Out of 22 republics, four republics have a dominant population of Buddhists. In other places also, there are a large number of Buddhist followers. As Nepal is the birthplace of Shakyamuni Buddha, there is a great potential of their interest in Nepal.
I recently visited one of the oldest Buddhist temples of the country in Saint Petersburg. I conducted Buddha Puja to consecrate the Buddha statue that I had brought from Patan as a gift to the temple.
I saw great interest from the monks and other large numbers of visitors there. This weekend, I will be visiting another Buddhist dominated area in Buriyati, in the Baikal region of Russia. The Russian Buddhists are also making a Russian temple in Lumbini. With all these activities, I hope that the peaceful path of Buddhism can help further strengthen our relations.
What about cooperation in Trade and Investment?
Russia is the biggest exporter of fertilizer, wheat and many other products in the world. It has been organizing distribution of 300,000 tons of fertilizer to Africa for free as international trade with Russia has been restricted as a result of sanctions. I see that direct trade with Russia can meet some of Nepal’s dire needs.
Similarly, there is also a great demand for Nepali tea, coffee, handicrafts, etc. There has to be an initiative from our side to find a long term-solution to our acute fertilizer shortage. I hope that there will be an increase in trade in the coming days.
It is reported that Russia is unhappy with Nepal’s position in the Russia-Ukraine war. Do you sense that?
Nepal is a non-aligned country. We have committed to non-alignment, Panchasheel and adherence to the UN charter by enshrining their principles in our constitution. It is true that our position in February 2022 in respect to the Ukraine conflict did not go down very well here. Despite that, our long-standing ties with Russia need to be further developed for our own benefit.
What is the current status of Nepali students and workers in Russia?
There is a large number of Nepalis living in Russia. It all began with thousands of Nepali students coming here during the 1960s and 1970s for their studies. There are almost a dozen former ministers in Nepal who were ex-students of the Soviet Union. You will find hundreds of good doctors and engineers who were educated in the Soviet Union and later in Russia. Some of the Nepali people have settled in Russia. Because of a large number of Nepali diaspora, the Non-resident Nepali (NRN) movement started from Russia and it has become a worldwide organization now. Similarly, the high quality educational institutions in Russia are attracting more and more of Nepali students here. All interested students are requested to directly contact the institutions through emails if they wish to study here. The Russian Cultural Centre in Kathmandu can also help them.
Here, I feel it is also important to talk about the recent phenomenon of distortions and extortions by some manpower agencies. They have been wrongly advising the Nepali youths that Russia can be a conduit to enter into other parts of Europe with present conflict as a pretext. This misinformation and exploitation have resulted in many innocent people landing in difficulty here. The rules here are very strict including the border security. Some of such misguided visitors were stranded without money and food here. So, I request the general public to be aware of such unscrupulous agents. We have placed a notice in this regard on our website as well.