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Russia has a lot to offer Nepal: Ambassador Novikov (Interview)

Sitaram Baral

Sitaram Baral

 |  Kathmandu

There is an intriguing coincidence between Nepal and the diplomatic career of Alexei A. Novikov, ambassador of the Russian Federation to Nepal. When he joined the diplomatic service in 1987 through the Foreign Ministry of Russia, he was posted to the then Soviet Union Embassy in Kathmandu. While working in Nepal for five years during his first posting, he witnessed major political upheavals in both Nepal and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was dissolved to form the Russian Federation. The then Panchayati System ended in Nepal during the same period. A multi-party democratic system was adopted in both the countries. After graduating from the Moscow State University in International Relations in 1987, he entered the diplomatic service. He served as an attache in Nepal from 1987 to 1992. He was employed twice in the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation in New York (1994-99 and 2002-07) under various positions. Ambassador Novikov served as the Consul General of the Russian Federation in Mumbai, India, from 2010 to 2015. After this assignment, he was appointed Deputy Director General of the Department of Human Resources under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia. Having spent more than 36 years in the diplomatic service, Ambassador Novikov is one of the most senior officers of the Russian Foreign Service. With the appointment of such a senior official as an ambassador to Nepal, it is clear how much importance Russia has attached to Nepal. Nepalkhabar recently talked to Ambassador Novikov on various aspects of Nepal-Russia relations. Excerpts:

Your Excellency, not much time has passed since the terrible crash of the airplane in Pokhara. It is believed to be the most dire air accident in Nepal in a long time. There have been many reports about the victims from Russia. Tell us about the details? What were the actions by the Embassy in this regard?
First of all, on behalf of the Embassy and people of Russia I once again express deep sorrow and grief over the loss of priceless human lives. Our sincere condolences go the Government of Nepal and families and relatives of those who tragically died in this accident.

Also in connection with the incident high rank officials from Russia on the various levels expressed their condolences to the people of Nepal. One of the first who sent his message was the President of Russia Vladimir Putin. Many others joined him including the Head of the Government of Russia, Mikhail Mishustin and the leadership of major political parties.

As you know there were four victims from Russia. Since the very first moment of the plane crash the Embassy had been monitoring the situation around the safe and rescue operations and was constantly in touch with the Nepali specialized official bodies let alone the families of the deceased Russian passengers.

We assisted the victims’ relatives in arriving to Nepal so that they could take part in the procedure of identification of bodies. Our employees also provided them with all the necessary paper work assistance and ensured the highly fruitful dialogue with Nepali side. Bodies have been cremated in full accordance with the will of the victims’ parents. Ash’s transportation to Russia has been completed successfully.

How often do you have to deal with providing the assistance to the Russian citizens in Nepal.
Literally every day. Russian Embassy provides a variety of essential services that ensure the protection of the interests of Russia and its citizens on the most fundamental level. It is basically one of our major targets – to assist Russians abroad, facilitate legitimate travel and help them in any situation.

I will tell you about one specific case on this issue. About three years ago when the COVID-19 virus shut down the world a hundreds of Russians appeared to be stuck in Nepal without a chance to go back home. It was the Embassy who organized the special flight that eventually delivered them to Russia and let them reunite with the families. The crucial matter of this case is that not only Russians had been evacuated but also the citizens of Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and other countries.

You have to be 24/7 ready to handle all kind of challenges in terms of the interests of the country that you represent and especially its citizens.   

As for the Ukraine and Ukrainians could you please clarify the nature of the tensions between your countries?
Neither Russia nor Russians have the tensions with Ukraine. What we see in Ukraine today is the fight against the anti-democratic criminal regime of Kiev who is solely guilty in deaths of thousands of people including Ukrainians and Russians. Russia is conducting special military operation to denazify Ukraine which is backed by the anti-Russian powers.

Unfortunately, Ukraine demonstrated complete disrespect not only for international law, but also for human lives. After eight years of the constant Ukrainian humiliation of Russian-speaking citizens Russia had no choice but to launch a special military operation in order to protect civilians from the cruel and unfair actions of the Ukrainian neo-nazi government.  

Apart from the economics and politics such field as sport has been affected as well. Many athletes from Russia were banned from participation in the international sport events. What is your comment on this?
I am totally convinced that such approach is absolutely not fair. Many high rank politicians used to say that sport is not a political issue. But the harsh reality of that issue is that double standards run the world.

Russia will definitely fight for the rights of its athletes to represent us on the international arena. Moreover our struggle has already resulted in the extraordinary project which will be soon realized in Russia. I mean the Phygital games or as they call it the “Games of Future”. This is the combination of physical and digital activities.

The core of Phygital project is International tournament in various disciplines using high technologies in the digital environment and physical activities. I am happy to announce that the first tournament is to be held in Kazan, Russia in March 2024. The first stages of the competitions though are to happen even sooner – in February and May of this year. The competitions will include games of cross-border format. All the events will be broadcasted on high end technological platforms and of course the big prize pool is provided. So taking this opportunity let me please invite the teams and athletes from Nepal to participate in this fantastic event!

On the eve of Day of the Diplomatic employee of Russia may I request you to highlight the Russia-Nepali relations?
This year will mark the 67th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic relations between Nepal and the Russia and I am very happy to state that since 1956 our cooperation has been built on the basis of mutual respect, trust and concern for each other interests.

Relations between our countries have developed dynamically and progressively throughout their history. Their foundation was laid by the intergovernmental agreements signed in 1960-1980 on economic and technical cooperation, on trade, and on air services. With the assistance of the USSR, a sugar factory in Birganj, a cigarette factory in Janakpur and a hydroelectric power station in Panauti were built in Nepal - the first public sector facilities that played a significant role in the economy and state revenues at that time. The USSR built a 110-kilometer section of the East-West highway, which significantly increased the transport accessibility of the southern regions of the country. In 1987 in Nepal, with the assistance of the USSR, a plant for the production of rosin and turpentine was built and put into operation. Since 1993, Nepali private firms have begun to acquire or lease Russian MI-17 helicopters with crews to organize transport links with remote regions of the country.

A special area of relations between Russia and Nepal from the first years was higher education of young Nepalis in Russian educational institutions. Every year, citizens of the Himalayan Republic are admitted to Russian universities at the expense of the Russian state budget under special quotas. Since 1957, more than 8.5 thousand graduates in engineering, medical and other specialties have been trained in this way. Nepali citizens note the quality of Russian higher education, which is widely in demand in the local labor market. Founded in 1967, the Association of Nepalese Graduates of Soviet and Russian Universities "Mitra Kunj" ("Club of Friends") continues to play an important role in establishing a friendly attitude towards Russia, promoting a positive image of our country in the most diverse layers of Nepali society.

Before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a steady increase in the tourist flow from Russia to Nepal (4,900 Russian tourists visited Nepal in 2015 and 10,300 in 2019). About 2,000 citizens of the Himalayan Republic visited our country in 2019. It is expected that after the normalization of the situation with the spread of coronavirus infection, the tourist flow between Russia and Nepal will again intensify.

The legal framework of the bilateral partnership includes seven existing agreements. Both Russia and Nepal are guided mainly by traditional multilateral international acts, primarily UN documents.

Over the past years and decades, enormous changes have taken place in our countries and in the world. But the feelings of mutual sympathy between the two peoples and the desire to deepen multifaceted international cooperation have not changed.

On the Day of Diplomatic employee of the Russian Federation I traditionally express my gratitude to all my Russian and Nepali colleagues who made their great contribution to strengthening and developing relations between our countries.

Today when Russia faces severe international challenges I would like to express my gratitude to the Nepali people for the fact that despite the constant streams of russophobic disinformation and groundless accusations coming from some media, they remain clear-headed and friendly towards our country. And I do believe that this interview will further contribute to the “mitrata” between the nations and perform a constant exchange of ideas, goodwill and mutual support.

May I request Your Excellency to suggest for the promotion of trade and commercial relations between Nepal and Russia? 
One of the most serious factors hampering the development of trade and commercial ties between the two countries is the absence of direct flights between Russia and Nepal since 2002, when the “Aeroflot” company stopped flying to Nepal. At present, this issue is being discussed at the Government level in both Russia and Nepal, we are making efforts to restore those ties, but it still seems to be a slow and difficult process.

We also believe that the two sides should be working tirelessly in order to increase the mutual level of knowledge about the opportunities in trade and commerce that our countries present.

Unfortunately, Nepali companies are still not very well aware of the potential of the Russian market. Our country alongside Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia is a member of the wider Eurasian Economic Union with the combined population of about 185 million people and GDP (PPP) of about 4.8 trillion USD.

Russia has the economy able to manufacture world’s most utilized spacecraft, modern models of airplanes and helicopters, our IT and telecommunications companies have the capacity to build up-to-date digital infrastructure. We have extensive experience in transport, construction and energy sectors. Being one of the most advanced countries when it comes to the difficult terrain agriculture, we have a lot to offer to the Nepali friends.

Similarly, Nepal is a terra incognita for the Russian business. It is a wonderful place when it comes to tourism, hydro energy and traditional goods (such as ayurvedic medicines) production.

But it’s not just that: localization of the production in the republic allows for the duty-free access to the Indian market if there is at least 30% local value addition. This provision is a great opportunity to manufacture goods in Nepal and export them to the wider Indian market.

In this regard, the Embassy is tirelessly working with our Nepali colleagues from the Ministries, Chambers of Commerce and Industry and Nepal Investment Board to boost the economic and trade cooperation between Russian and Nepal.      

What suggestions do Your Excellency have for the promotion of tourism between Nepal and Russia? 
Traditionally, Nepal is a very attractive tourist destination for the Russian nationals. Annually, thousands of tourists and mountain climbers arrive to the Himalayan republic to scale the World’s most famous peaks, enjoy centuries-old temples and sanctuaries, get to know the rich cultural heritage of the country. The UNESCO has listed many of these cultural areas as World Heritage Sites (17 natural parks and 8 monument sites).

Actually, the number of visitors from Russia to Nepal has been steadily increasing during the last several years and reached about 10 thousand people per year by 2019. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected tourism activities

Most of the tourists coming to Nepal are keen on trekking, mountain climbing as well as other sport practices (paragliding etc.). For example, in April-May, 2021, famous Russian climbers from the club “7 peaks” took part in the international mountaineering expedition to Everest and Lhotse mountains, which was timed to coincide with the 76th Anniversary of the Great Victory (May 9) and the Day of Remembrance and Sorrow (Beginning of the Great Patriotic War against the Nazi Germany, June 22). The climbers hoisted the Victory Banner, the Russian national flag, the pennant and the emblem of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, presented to the athletes by our Embassy, to the highest peak of the planet. One year later, in May of 2022 other brave Russians summited the legendary Base Camp and dedicated their success to the 77th anniversary of the Great Victory in the Great Patriotic War. The culmination of this campaign was the hoisting of the provided by the Embassy Victory Banner at the altitude of 5364 m.

Nepal is a unique place when it comes to mountaineering activities. Thus, the comprehensive development of the trekking and climbing routes, development of the mountain infrastructure could undoubtedly attract more Russian tourists.  

On the other hand, some Russians are interested in spiritual practices, ancient crafts, architecture and local authentic art. Even though these people are usually very undemanding and prepared to bear with simple facilities, the hospitality and transportation infrastructure in Nepal does need improvement. On our side, we hope to facilitate the positive changes in that direction.

Having this opportunity I would also like to point out the efforts done by out Nepali colleagues in Moscow. Embassy of Nepal in Russia has been actively involved in all the processes concerning the mutual humanitarian projects. Headed by His Excellency Mr.M.R.Tuladhar the Embassy has done a great job and I wish to express our common gratitude to them. Mr.Ambassador is the good friend of mine, we are constantly in touch with him.

What are the key points of the Russian-Nepali humanitarian and cultural cooperation?
We believe that the cultural and humanitarian cooperation between our countries should grow and expand over time. More and younger Russians are interested in Nepal as it is highly interesting, unique and promising country. In the same way, many Nepalis show interest in Russia, the country that has been the bridge between Europe and Asia for many centuries and still remains. Therefore, I would like to emphasize the need for a wider selection of specialties for Nepali students in Russia. We would very much like to give Nepal highly qualified personnel in such areas as medicine, agriculture, hydropower and much more. Russian language courses are also available on the basis of the Russian House in Kathmandu. We consider this an amazing opportunity to increase the potential of interaction between our peoples.

In continuation of the Russia’s foreign policy issue, do you think the Special Military Operation in Ukraine and the confrontation between Russia and the West will affect the perception of Russia in Nepal?
I am very grateful to the Nepalese for the fact that despite the constant streams of disinformation coming from the Western media, they remain clear-headed and friendly towards Russia. I am pleased to read the local press, especially in Nepali, and see that the authors strive to come to an objective understanding of the situation, and not rely on memorized and untrue clichés from Western news agencies. Therefore, I am sure that the long-term relations between our countries will stay warm, as they always have been, and Russia will continue to be perceived as Nepal's reliable partner. (Photos: Saroj Baizu)


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