NATION

Set To Grow Stronger

The Russians’ growing influence and assistance to Fiji should not come as a surprise. They follow hot on the heels of their Chinese counterparts who stood by Fiji in the
18 Feb 2016 09:30
Set To Grow Stronger
RFMF Personnel Cpl. Pita Sorby demonstrate use of AK74 handed over by Russian Head of Missile Artillery Chief Directorate Lieutenant General Nikolay Parshin to RFMF yesterday. Photo: RONALD KUMAR.

The Russians’ growing influence and assistance to Fiji should not come as a surprise.

They follow hot on the heels of their Chinese counterparts who stood by Fiji in the wake of the 2006 events.

They have filled a vacuum created by traditional allies Australia and New Zealand when they alienated Fiji through travel, trade and diplomatic sanctions.

$19 million worth of arms and equipment is a lot of money in terms of our island economies. But for Fiji it serves as an important purpose in upgrading the outdated weapons and equipment of our peacekeepers abroad, especially in the Middle East.

It also underscores the changing perception in Fiji and the Pacific about two of the world’s super powers.

One significant perception was that Russian-made and Chinese-made weapons and equipment were inferior to that produced by the West, principally the United States and Britain. Not anymore.

If you were present at the handover of the Russian arms and equipment at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks in Nabua, Suva, on Tuesday, you would be impressed with the display.

A simulator used to demonstrate the firepower of the arms was quite impressive. It is understood that the small arms, equipment and mobile workshops are just the first consignment. Others will follow as the need arises.

In the defence co-operation between the two countries, there is also scope for extension of assistance to cover the Fijian Navy. China, which has one of the world’s top Navies, is working closely with Fiji on relocating the Fijian Navy to a new base.

The Fijian Navy is seriously in need of long distant operating patrol boats to protect its economic zone. It is understood that the current boats, built in Australia, cannot effectively fulfil this role because it does not have the required fuel capacity.

But for the time being the focus is on our peacekeepers in missions.

A significant proportion of the Fijian military is currently involved in such missions. About 1000 troops are serving in the Sinai,  Golan Heights, Iraq, and Lebanon.

The Bainimarama government wants to maintain its commitment because the United Nations assignments are a significant source of income for Fijian families. Our peacekeepers earn more money than those on regular duties at home. Their earnings constitute a major portion of remittances sent back home and strengthens our economy.

While diplomatic relations have been fully restored with Australia and New Zealand, they do not mean that Fiji will put the brakes on Russia and China.

Bilateral arrangements between Fiji and the two world powers will continue to develop and grow stronger.

Fiji is expected to continue its non-aligned movement foreign policy which advocates friends to all, enemies to none.

It developed the policy during the period of the sanctions which failed to hurt it but succeeded in isolating the country.

Russia has become an important ally. The relations took off in 2012 when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov became the first senior Russian government official to visit Fiji.

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama reciprocated in the following year when he became the first Fijian leader to go on a state visit to Russia.

The relations are now deeply entrenched. Australia, New Zealand, United States and Britain will just have to accept that Russia is also a friend of Fiji and a good and growing one.

 

Edited by Paula Tuvuki

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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