MEDIA STATEMENT BY THE HON. DINESH GUNAWARDENA, MINISTER OF FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF SRI LANKA AT THE JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE WITH H.E. SERGEY LAVROV, MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION 14 JANUARY 2020 – MINISTRY OF FOREIGN RELATIONS – COLOMBO
His Excellency Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation
The State Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Relations
Members of the Russian Delegation and members of the Sri Lankan and Russian media
Excellency, it is an honour to welcome you to Sri Lanka.
We congratulate the Russian Federation on the tremendous progress and development being achieved under the visionary leadership of President Vladimir Putin. The major achievements in agricultural productivity, is particularly praiseworthy. Sri Lanka- Russia bilateral ties entered a new and dynamic phase under the leadership of President Putin.
Both our countries enjoy an abiding and longstanding friendship that dates back to the 1840s. Sri Lanka’s literary and political traditions have been enriched by Russian literature and political movements. Both our countries are heirs to rich histories and cultural traditions. Our societies are also multicultural.
It has been both a unique pleasure and an honour to welcome a distinguished and sincere friend of Sri Lanka, whose close association with my country started as he began his diplomatic career at the Soviet Embassy in Colombo in 1972.
We are doubly proud that Mr. Lavrov not only started his diplomatic career in Sri Lanka, but also acquired a command of the Sinhala language during that assignment.
This official visit to Sri Lanka by Foreign Minister Lavrov after ten years since 2009, has served to further revitalize our bilateral engagement.
As you may know, this is the first official level visit from the Russian Federation following the Presidential elections in November 2019, and the appointment of a new Cabinet of Ministers in Sri Lanka.
The former Soviet Union was a steady development partner of Sri Lanka, and extended valuable technical assistance to pioneer the manufacturing sector in our country (steel, tyre and flour milling). Early public housing (Narahenpita) and irrigation projects (parts of Mahaweli and Udawalawe) and were also funded by the former Soviet Union.
In the past three decades, we have also fought against ruthless terrorism in our respective countries. We face numerous challenges in multilateral fora, where we continue to support each other. I take this opportunity to extend Sri Lanka’s deep appreciation to the Government of the Russian Federation for its unequivocal support for Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Therefore, a strong sense of understanding, solidarity and mutual respect underpin the Sri Lanka –Russia bilateral engagement.
I have a special association with the Russian Federation and the former Soviet Union, as my political ideology has been nurtured by political movements and concepts of social justice of the former Soviet Union.
Today, we had an excellent meeting, where we renewed our commitment to further consolidate and transform our bilateral cooperation into a viable, results oriented and mutually beneficial partnership. Our discussions focused on continuing the political dialogue, and advancing bilateral economic and technical cooperation within the Russia-Sri Lanka Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation.
The agreed areas of cooperation include agriculture and the food economy, fisheries, water management, education, including technical and vocational education, trade and investment, tourism, security and defence, including counter-terrorism, science & technology, renewable energy and oil exploration.
Sri Lanka and Russia are keen to further expand the bilateral economic engagement and increase bilateral trade to meet the target volume USD 700 million, that was set in 2017 during the visit to Russia by former President Maithripala Sirisena. Our total bilateral trade turnover in 2018 was US$388.98. Russia is Sri Lanka’s 15th largest export destination and the 24th largest import origin country.
I briefed Foreign Minister Lavrov on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s vision for a prosperous and equitable Sri Lanka with a focus on technology driven economic advancement. The vision seeks to unleash the immense growth potential of Sri Lanka by harnessing new technologies to increase value addition in exports and manufacturing, promoting skilled labour, modernising agriculture, promoting private sector SME development, and inviting private sector joint ventures and public –private partnerships. Such ventures will be promoted between the interested business entities in Sri Lanka and Russia for rubber products, coconut based items, herbal drinks, spices, fish fresh or chilled, gem and jewellery and ceramics.
We noted and welcomed the increasing Russian tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka. There were 86, 549 Russian arrivals in 2019 compared to 64,497 arrivals in 2018. Direct air connectivity facilitated by Aeroflot, which has commenced three flights a week, is significantly generating two- way tourism. We also discussed the potential for greater Russian investments in the hospitality sector.
I expressed Sri Lanka’s gratitude for the generous Russian Government assistance, extended over the last six decades, to educate generations of Sri Lankan students in the areas of medicine, engineering and other technical fields In this regard, I informed Foreign minister Lavrov that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was keen to expand University level technical education in Sri Lanka in order to increase the employability and productivity of Sri Lankan youth.
President Rajapaksa is also keen to upgrade the quality of Sri Lanka’s vocational and technical training programmes. Therefore, we agreed to explore new educational opportunities at the Russian universities and technical schools for advanced science and technical education for Sri Lankan students.
We reviewed programmes and activities under bilateral defence cooperation. Defence cooperation between our two countries is active and robust under the bilateral Military Cooperation Agreement that was signed in September 2018 in Moscow.
The two sides recognized the threats posed by terrorism, violent extremism, illicit drugs trafficking and other transnational organized crimes to national, regional and international security, and agreed to continue our cooperation to pursue shared solutions and exchange best practices. Sri Lanka and Russia will further expand counter-terrorism cooperation through strengthened linkages between the relevant authorities in the respective countries.
We discussed the increasing importance of the Indian Ocean region to global trade and commerce, and stressed the importance of maintaining stability and security for the future development and prosperity of the region.
In this context, we focused on the importance of our active engagement in regional organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and agreed that cooperation and improved regional coordination was essential to meet the challenges of a dynamic and complex regional and global environment.
Our two countries will continue our cooperation and dialogue to pursue shared interests in the United Nations, including in the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
I take this opportunity to convey our goodwill and warm greetings to the people of Russia.
Excellency, I look forward to continuing our collaboration to pursue and promote our shared interests.
I thank you.