Russia looks to Cambodia in attempt to fill economic void of Turkey

Published 30.11.2015 15:18
Russia looks to Cambodia in attempt to fill economic void of Turkey

As tensions mounted following the downing last week of a Russian jet that entered Turkish airspace despite warnings, Russia has made a pivot eastward, forging new economic relationships in Cambodia akin to those previously enjoyed with Turkey.

In the wake of a closed-to-journalists visit by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to Cambodia, a number of deals have been inked with the Phnom Penh government, among them an agreement to establish a direct flight between the two countries and plans to help Cambodia develop a nuclear power plant.

On the back of the downing, Moscow tightened restrictions on relations with Turkey; among them a ban on charter flights between Russia and Turkey, to where Russian travel agencies have also been told to stop selling tours.

The Phnom Penh Post reported last week that the new Russian deal with Cambodia would open up a flight path that has not existed since the 1990s, when Russia's Aeroflot carrier used to operate a service between the two capitals.

It quoted a Cambodian aviation official as saying that there are no plans for Cambodian carriers to make the long-haul journey, indicating that it will be Russian carriers establishing the route.

The agreement comes despite a sharp decline in the number of Russian tourists visiting Cambodia over the past year, caused by the country's economic problems.

The Post cited Tourism Ministry figures, which show that 38,600 Russian tourists came to Cambodia between January and the end of September, compared to 83,400 in the same period in 2014.

Meanwhile, around 4.4 million Russian tourists visited Turkey in 2014 -- a number that is now anticipated to fall, perhaps many even choosing Cambodia as their new destination.

While Turkey has the archaeological delights of ancient empires and a thriving Mediterranean coast extremely popular with Russians, Cambodia has the spectacular Khmer temples of Preah Vihear along with white sand beaches and the warm currents of the Gulf of Thailand -- destinations that may have suddenly become pieces in a major political and economic trade off.

Russia is Turkey's second-largest trading partner, with more than $32.7 billion annually, according to Russian government statistics, while it also plays a large role in the development of Turkey's nuclear industry.

During the visit to Cambodia, ten deals were signed by Medvedev and his counterpart, Prime Minister Hun Sen, among them a bilateral plan for Russia to assist Cambodia in developing nuclear energy, as well as the exchange of information, the Post reported.

Anadolu Agency reported Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin had signed the executive order on flights Saturday, and that it also bans Russian employers from hiring Turkish nationals from January onward, while Sunday it was reported that Turkish footballers were now barred from joining Russian teams during the winter break.

There have been no direct flights between Russia and Cambodia since Aeroflot suspended its Phnom Penh service in the early 1990s.

As backer of Vietnam's occupation of the country in the 1980s, the then Soviet Union wielded financial and cultural authority, with Russian becoming a popular second language and many Cambodian students travelling to study in the USSR.

Such influence disappeared, however, with the end of the Cold War.

On Sunday, Turkey's Culture and Tourism Minister Mahir Unal called for tourism to be left out of politics.

"As Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister, I want to say to the Russian Federation citizens that Turkey is your home," he told reporters in Kahramanmaras, in the country's south.

While the ruble has fallen against the dollar for the past six months, it has held its value against the Cambodian riel, making the country an attractive destination for Russian tourists.

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