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Thailand seeks closer defence ties with Moscow

Feb 22. 2016
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By The Nation, Reuters

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IN A BID to tilt Thailand’s foreign relations and military cooperation towards Moscow after cool relations with the United States and the West, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan will visit Russia this week to seek deals on milita
This will be the first official visit from Thailand to Russia since the visit by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to Thailand last April, Maj-General Kongcheep Tantrawanich, spokesman for the Defence Ministry, said yesterday. 
The visit follows just weeks after a trip to Bangkok by the powerful head of Russia’s security council, Nikolai Patrushev, according to Reuters. 
In Moscow, Prawit’s delegation will meet with Medvedev, Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and other top officials, Kongcheep said. 
Thailand has been drawn towards Russia after the military coup in 2014. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha met with Russian premier Medvedev several times over a year. They met for the first time in their capacity as heads of governments in Nay Pyi Taw in November 2014. Mevedev visited Thailand in April last year. The latest meeting between the two was during a summit of leaders from Asia and Pacific Economic Cooperation in the Philippines last November. 
Prawit’s visit to Moscow would also lay the groundwork for Prime Minister Prayut’s first visit to Moscow in May for the Russia-Asean Summit. 
Prawit, who is visiting Moscow with economic tzar Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, will discuss with his Russian counterparts a wide range of issues, including trade and investment. 
Thailand is reportedly interested in purchasing military equipment from Russia. The military-backed government is planning to acquire new battle tanks from Russia after deliveries of an order for such tanks from the Ukraine ran into difficulties, according to Jane’s Intelligence Review.
In an interview, Deputy Prime Prawit told Reuters that no decision had been made on the tanks. But US restrictions on the sale of arms to the military-backed government would mean Thailand would need to shop elsewhere for the roughly 50 tanks it needs.
“The US won’t sell weaponry to us, and as, of late, we’ve been on a tight budget we can’t afford them,” Prawit said. A 2011 deal to buy 49 tanks from Ukraine fell through after only 10 were delivered, he noted.
Thailand is, on course to sign an agreement with Russia covering counter-terrorism and is looking to buy Russian hardware such as helicopters for disaster response, he said.
In September, it was reported that Russia’s Rostec conglomerate was looking to sell military hardware to Thailand in exchange for commodities such as rubber and rice. The company’s subsidiaries are executing a contract to supply Thailand with Mi-17 transport helicopters, as well as Superjet 100 aircraft, Defence Industry Daily reported.
During Medvedev’s visit to Bangkok last April, Russia and Thailand signed agreements to cooperate on energy, investment, drug suppression, tourism and culture. The two countries aim to double their trade to US$10 billion this year. Russia said it could buy at least 80,000 tonnes of rubber from Thailand this year. 

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