Nov 19, 2010 15:08 Moscow Time
On the 21st through 24th of this month St. Petersburg is due to play host to an international forum to preserve the tiger population in the world. The forum is timed for the ongoing Year of the Tiger, according to the Eastern calendar.
It was a year ago that the decision was made to hold the forum to agree moves to preserve that unique and rare species that is rapidly becoming extinct. In the last 100 years the tiger population has decreased by more than 30 times, from 100,000 to 3,200. The St. Pete forum was expected to be attended by the Prime Ministers of the 14 countries that still give shelter to tigers. These countries are Bangladesh, Bhutan, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, China, North Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia and Thailand. This will be for the first time that the future of that rare animal has merited such a high-profile discussion.
But the Thai Government’s official spokesman Panithan Wattanayakorn said Thursday that his Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva would not be coming to attend due to the need to prepare for next week’s joint session of both houses of Thailand’s Parliament to discuss constitutional amendments. The Thai Prime Minister will instead send his Minister for Natural Resources and the Environment Suvit Khunkitti. According to observers, Prime Minister Abhisit thus tries to prove that his refusal to attend does not at all mean that his Government is unprepared to take up such an important problem. After all, Suvit Khunkitti is a very influential politician, a member of several Cabinets and a Prime Minister’s confidant.
Almost all observers have immediately called attention to the fact that the Thai Government came up with its statement on Prime Minister’s Abhisit’s refusal to fly to Russia just two days after the Thai authorities had extradited the Russian businessman Victor Bout to the Untied States, which accuses him of illegal arms trade. Russia has sharply reacted to the Thai authorities’ move in circumvention of Thailand’s judicial procedures and international law provisions.
Some hotheads even called for severing diplomatic relations with Thailand. Some people in other countries got the impression that Russia is prepared to resort to any means to defend Victor Bout, whether he was guilty or not. On Thursday Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov offered explanations of Russia’s stand on the matter.
According to Lavrov, Russia does by no means pose as a lawyer or claim that Bout has never done anything against the law. We know nothing of this, nor does anybody else know anything of this, unless proven otherwise, Lavrov said. But the points we are trying to make are that the Thai authorities broke their own law and international law when deciding to extradite Bout, and that Russia has always defended, defends and will defend the lawful rights of its nationals that have found themselves in a predicament abroad.
A row flared up in the Thai press following Bout’s extradition to the US, and Thai businessmen now fear that Russia may apply economic sanctions against Thailand, specifically it may close its airspace to Thai aircraft. Many observers point out that Bout’s case is by no means the only one that has complicated Russian-Thai relations in recent months.
The Thai press energetically spread rumours in September that the former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, removed from power in 2006 and currently hiding in emigration, had allegedly visited Moscow to meet Thai opposition officials to coordinate antigovernment unrest in Bangkok. Although the news has never been officially corroborated, this cast a shadow on Russian-Thai relations.
It is certainly unreasonable to believe that the case of one or two people could drastically deteriorate inter-state ties. Russian-Thai relations are closely intertwined. Hundreds of thousands of Russian tourists visit Thailand every year, with 50,000 Russian nationals making their home in Pattaya alone.
Besides, Russia and Thailand have joint projects in the production and transportation of hydrocarbons, in nuclear power production and in military technological cooperation.
But does all this mean that the Thai authorities can indefinitely put the existing friendly relations to test by resorting to all sorts of unfriendly moves? I believe, the answer is obvious, Boris Volkhonsky writes in conclusion.
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