With the country on the verge of celebrating 50 years of independence, it might be an appropriate time to look at our diplomatic ties with global superpowers over that period. Following Independence Day in 1968, Russia was one of the first countries to acknowledge Mauritius as a new state. His Excellency Konstantin Klimovsky, ambassador of Russia in Mauritius, speaks to us about 50 years of diplomatic years, the future of Russian education and the prospect of President Vladimir Putin visiting the island.
The bilateral ties between Mauritius and Russia date back to 1968. What have those diplomatic relations produced so far?
Indeed, my country (the USSR at that time) was one of the first to recognise the new independent island state in the Indian Ocean. The diplomatic relations were established on the 5th day after the proclamation of independence, that is on 17th of March, 1968. From the beginning, the Soviet Union chose the way of supporting Mauritius.
My country played an important role in training national staff for your country. Many hundreds of Mauritians graduated from Soviet universities and later occupied positions of responsibility in various fields of the national economy. Among them, there were engineers, doctors, civil officers etc. Currently, there is a solid association of Mauritian graduates of Soviet and Russian universities (MAURUSS), which unites around 800 members.
Are the diplomatic ties between Mauritius and Russia evident on the international stage?
The Russian Federation and the Republic of Mauritius successfully and fruitfully cooperate in the UN and in its specialised agencies. We highly appreciate the joint attempts to ensure a democratic and fair world based on strict respect for norms of International Law, the United Nations Charter, recognition of the unquestionable value of cultural and civilisational diversity, national sovereignty, and the right of all countries to decide their future freely, without external pressure.
We find very important our engagement in strengthening international stability and security, resolving complex global issues including peaceful settlement of regional conflicts and addressing dangerous threats, of which international terrorism is certainly the greatest. Among the latest examples – effective cooperation of our countries within the framework of the contact group on piracy off the coast of Somalia, a meeting which was held from the 5th to the 7th of June, 2017 in Port-Louis.
What has changed in the Indian Ocean for Russia since the end of the Cold War?
The strategic importance of the Indian Ocean stems from its close location to the main oil and gas-extraction regions of the world, and on the fact that it is a connection point of large commercial ways of the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Africa to the countries of the South and Eastern Asia. The Indian Ocean is vulnerable to piracy in the region of the Horn of Africa and the Strait of Malacca due to various routes of transportation of goods. After the end of the Cold War, the US have maintained the monopoly positions in this region during almost 20 years. However, in the last years China and India started to compete to become principal players here.
The role of the Indian Ocean for the world geopolitics is growing due to the political instability in some coastal countries and with conservation of old and appearance of new hotbeds of international terrorism, drug trafficking and sea piracy. Based on its spatial and geophysical features, its place and role in international and regional relations, Russia traditionally is a maritime power. Russia keeps these positions thanks to its geographical location, length of maritime borders and due to the great contributions to studies of the World Ocean, to the development of ocean shipping as well as many maritime discoveries made by famous Russian sailors and travellers.
The Russian Federation is seeking to enlarge its ocean transport and fisheries in the Indian Ocean, develop joint activities with other countries on piracy minimization and ensure its naval presence on a periodical basis. At the same time, the main goal of our country remains to support the transformation of the Indian Ocean to an area of peace, stability and good-neighbourly relations and this is why our priority is the use of diplomatic, economic and nonmilitary ways of resolving any issues.
«The diplomatic relations were established on the 5th day after the proclamation of independence, that is on 17th of March, 1968.»
How are you planning to celebrate those 50 years of diplomatic ties?
The Russian Embassy, in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and International Trade and the Ministry of Arts and Culture of Mauritius, has prepared an extensive programme dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. In this context in collaboration with the Mauritian Musical Society we have already organised a concert of the famous Russian pianist Mr. Petr Dmitriev. From the 11th to the 18th of March there will be an entry in Port-Louis of a Russian oceanographic vessel AdmiralVladimirskiy. I hope that we will manage to schedule the visits of Mauritian citizens to the vessel.
At the end of March, we are organising a Russian cultural week in Mauritius. During this week, there will be screening of Russian feature movies in different cinemas of the island (cinema week starts on the 23rd March in MCine Trianon), a photo exhibition dedicated to the history of our diplomatic relations, and broadcasting on the MBC of Russian documentary movies about culture and life in Russia.
On the 27th of March in Serge Constantin Theatre there will be a significant concert of the «New Russian Quartet» and the duet «Russian Soul». The programme will include various compositions of Russian classical and folk music. We are counting on visits to Port-Louis of a delegation from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, parliamentary members and the vice-chancellor of the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia. The additional information about the time and the place of different events will be available for your readers on the website of the Russian Embassy, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
«At the end of March, we are organising a Russian cultural week.»
It will be back to business once those celebrations are over. What are the avenues of economic cooperation that can improve the partnership between Russia and Mauritius?
Over the last years, economic ties between Russia and Mauritius have not been developing as effectively as they could, taking into account the great potential that exists. The official visit of Vishnu Lutchmeenaraidoo, minister of Foreign Affairs, to Moscow in November 2017 was vital. He held negotiations with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Sergey Lavrov and discussed matters of economic cooperation. The most promising directions of cooperation, as it seems to me, are commerce, financial services and investment, tourism, fisheries, collaboration in the field of culture and education.
Education in Russia is also something you hold close to your heart. However, there seems to be fewer Mauritian students coming over these days for tertiary education. Why is that?
Today Mauritius offers to its citizens big opportunities of educating themselves in universities based in Mauritius and in some other private institutions. Mauritius is in close contact with universities of the United Kingdom, China, Australia, France, India and some other countries. Concerning Russia, in the 90s there was in fact a reduction of the number of foreign students that were invited to get education. This could be explained by the transformation to a new social order due to evident changes in the country’s life after the fall of the Soviet political system that were followed by economic difficulties.
However, now the situation has considerably changed to the better. In the present time, more than 270 000 foreign students are studying in Russia. The interest of learning in Russia is constantly growing so that in 2025 this number will come up to 750 000 of students. My country offers 15 000 of scholarships for foreign students on an annual basis. Some time ago, the Russian Government settled about 20 scholarships for Mauritius students, however not all of them were used because some of the offered specialisations were not popular among young Mauritians. Thus, some of the proposed grants were redistributed and offered to countries where they were more needed.
Moreover, relevant Mauritian authorities gave too little time to potential candidates to make an application with the enclosure of the necessary documents and this is why some of them could not manage to settle down these formalities in time. Nevertheless, I would like to outline, that even taking into account all of the abovementioned difficulties, a dozen of Mauritian applicants come to Russia to study on an annual basis. It seems to me that we can increase this number especially if we consider that the education in Russia costs less than in many other countries but the quality stays at a high level as it was before.
How do you plan to rectify that and make Russian education appealing again to Mauritian students?
First, we have to think of the way to give more information to young Mauritians about the possibilities of studying in Russia. In this matter, we intend to use the potential of the Russian- African Centre for University Services (RACUS). Second, we need to resolve the situation concerning the list of recognized Medical institutions, elaborated by the Medical Council of Mauritius. Students who are going to study medicine in Russia have to be sure that they will be able to be employed in their motherland.
The Russian Ministry of Education is creating new formats to attract foreign students. In this case, in the beginning of 2018 Russia is hosting the first international competition for master program applicants – «Open Doors: Russian Scholarship Project». Now, students from all over the world can enter ahead of time and continue to study free of charge in the master degree programs in the best Russian Universities. To get familiar with the project and the procedure of participating in the International competition «Open Doors: Russian Scholarship Project» check the official website: od.globaluni.ru.
Looking to the future, how do you see the relationship between Mauritius and Russia changing over the next 50 years?
I see a strong prospective of the next 50 years of our cooperation and I can afford to be enthusiastic about this subject. I see a real possibility of joint research of the resources of the Indian Ocean, the transformation of Mauritius into a regional financial-economic and transport services hub in order to communicate with African countries which are demanded by dozens of biggest Russian companies, I see concerts in Mauritius of soloists from the Russian Bolshoi Theatre and regular flights from Moscow and Saint-Petersburg to Port-Louis, etc.
Finally, can we expect President Putin to come and visit Mauritius one day?
As you know, certain rules exist to keep the right order of visits of the official authorities abroad. Before scheduling a visit of a Prime Minister or a President there should be a visit of a Minister of Foreign Affairs and therefore, the mission of the Embassy for the next years is to prepare the visit of the head of the Russian foreign office and for this purpose certain conditions should be developed.
Nevertheless, during various big international conferences the meetings of the Russian and the Mauritian top officials are possible. I also think that the Mauritian delegation that took part in the XIX International Festival of Youth and Students in Sochi had the possibility to see in person the address of our President Vladimir Putin to the participants.