| Siti Hajar |
WITH Brunei Darussalam being part of a regional bloc (APEC) that has started to garner attention from the rest of the world, counterpart and far-distant neighbour Russia has started to take notice of the Abode of Peace – with a number of firsts between the two countries witnessed over the past few years.
From big-business energy to softer bilateral ties through the exchange of culture, the relationship between Russia and the Sultanate is slowly coming to the front burner with a number of successful initiatives that stress on laying the foundation for a brighter future.
Over the past five years since Russia established its embassy under the leadership of outgoing ambassador, Victor Seleznev, the two-way relations has flourished in a number of areas, with the ambition of better serving the people of both countries and many more milestones envisioned for the future.
Described by the ambassador as being a nation understated in its historical, political and economic capabilities, Brunei offers a vast array of opportunities that Russia can leverage upon, and as the world superpower looks East, Brunei’s potential as an emerging capital in the region is limitless.
“The most important thing is to find new ways, new spheres of interaction and that could correspond to the needs of each respective partner,” he explained yesterday as he referred to the ways in which Brunei and Russia begin introducing their people to the possibilities that each country offers.
Apart from the natural partnership in the oil and gas sector, with consideration that both nations are giants in their respective ways, Russia and Brunei have set their sights on expanding cooperation in the field of education with a Memorandum of Understanding slated to be signed next year.
As shared by the ambassador, Universiti Brunei Darussalam alongside Far Eastern Federal University located in Vladivostok are set to explore opportunities in knowledge exchanges, with what he hopes would focus on collaboration in a number of related areas ranging from research to technical and vocational training.
“We are to expand more and more our synergy in education,” he said, adding, “I hope there will be more Russian students in Brunei and for more Bruneian citizens who can enjoy educational facilities in Russia.”
Though it is generally known that Russia emphasises on syllabuses taught in the Russian language, this newly established institution, it was added, will also offer courses in English as a means to quell reservations among foreign students who could potentially find learning in Russian intimidating.
This effort, he shared, will come under the purview of the institutions rector, who, it was shared, is currently promoting the use of academic English and who has travelled to the country to enhance the education partnership with Brunei’s own policymakers for education.
As the potential for youth exchange through education looks promising, people-to-people connection has been considered as the foundation of building relationships as far as the ambassador can see with cultural relations being an important achievement during his tenure here in the country.
It was shared that last year, a number of Russian photographers ventured into the heart of the Bruneian community and had showcased visual representations of the people’s lives to Russia – many of whom are impressed with the country, especially its initiatives to preserve its green gold.
As an extension to introducing Brunei to the people of Russia, it was explained that Russian’s Tatarstan region – populated by millions of Muslims – offers Brunei opportunities in reaching out to Russia’s Muslim community through the various platforms that Brunei has already established.
“The Tatarstan region, in the centre of the European part of Russia, has a lot of commonalities with Brunei as one of the main oil producing regions in Russia,” apart from Russia looking to set up its own Islamic banking institution as it looks to tap into this particular emerging market.
“The president of Tatarstan,” he added, “is scheduled to come to the region with a business delegation and I do hope that we can organise for them to come to Brunei in search of establishing direct commerce contacts with Bruneian establishments,” thus paving way for the Bruneian community to expand its reach into Russia.
“Brunei is facing real economic progress and the Sultanate doesn’t shy away from modern technologies, economics and science and these are useful and beneficial to the Bruneian Ummah, which is important for the government of Brunei.”
As he expressed optimism over ongoing dialogue with the likes of the Brunei Investment Agency, the Ministry of Finance and the Brunei Economic Development Board, the ambassador explained that, “The Russian regions are eagerly welcoming the interest of Bruneian society and business community to direct contacts and cooperation. Cultural and tourist exchanges as well as placement of funds in mutually profitable projects are in the nearest agenda of Russian-Brunei inter-regional relations.”
With Asean only recently emerging on the Russian map, it was explained that the Russian Chamber of Trade and Commerce established a special business council in 2012 especially for the exploration of Asean opportunities that have provided the people of both communities the chance to take part in trips around the Russian region and vice-versa, with Brunei also part of a second mission to take place in the near future.
Such a trip, he added, comes in the wake of expression of Russian interest in Bruneian projects proposed by the government of Brunei.
“Though we have yet to take part in any projects in Brunei, the embassy here has been receiving queries from Russian companies – which is a promising start.”
As the ambassador’s service to the country comes to an end as he prepares to return home to Russia next month, Seleznev expressed his gratitude to the people of Brunei “for the wonderful years that I have been here.”
He leaves behind a legacy to be carried forward by his successor who, like the ambassador, is versed in the Malay language.
“What I have experienced in Brunei is witnessing what Brunei is working for, which is development, being fruitful and making the country and its partners more prosperous and this, I believe, is the best possible outcome.
“As I say my farewell, I depart the country with a peaceful conscience as we continue promoting our relationships in different ways with many more prospects and I am happy that my successor will come in time to continue what we have been striving to accomplish.
“It is my hope that the next generation will bring even more happiness and I thank Brunei for all the pleasures that it has given me.”