BANGKOK, Thailand -- While the U.S. alliance with Thailand suffers
strains after Bangkok's 2014 coup, Russia has delivered combat
helicopters to the military regime and now wants to provide tanks,
counter-terrorism training, security intelligence and other
assistance, Russia's ambassador to Thailand said in an interview.
   Moscow's willingness to support coup leader Prime Minister Prayuth
Chan-ocha sharply contrasts with the Obama administration's public
criticism of Thailand's junta, Russian Ambassador Kirill Barsky said.
   Meanwhile, Thailand's Defense Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwon, who
is also deputy prime minister, visited Russia February 23-27 so the
two sides could tighten military relations after decades of relatively
low-key links, Mr. Barsky said.
   Prime Minister Prayuth is invited to join a May summit in the
Russian city of Sochi between the Kremlin and the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which also includes Brunei, Cambodia,
Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore and
   The Russia-ASEAN Summit mirrors in some ways Obama's February 15-16
U.S.-ASEAN Summit at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California.
   Russia's version however is not expected to include any
similarities to what Mr. Obama told Mr. Prayuth in California.
   "We continue to encourage a return to civilian rule in Thailand,"
President Obama said.
   "Security is a very important area where Russia and Thailand can
benefit from working closely with each other," Ambassador Barsky said
in an interview on February 18 in the Russian Embassy.
   "Just a couple of days ago, the Secretary of the Security Council
of the Russian Federation, Nikolai Patrushev, paid a visit to Thailand
and reconvened a meeting of the Working Group on Security Cooperation,
and the discussion revealed a lot of opportunities and mutual interest
of Russia and Thailand in the field of security.
   "We have decided to kick-start collaboration on counter-terrorism,"
and other security concerns, Mr. Barsky said, including "intelligence
exchange, and training of personnel."
   Gen. Prawit's visit to Russia will continue this dialogue, he said.
   "We are in the initial phase of that cooperation. But I think we
have very good prospects, because I registered strong mutual interest
in cooperation in such fields of security as counter-terrorism,
counter-narcotic drugs, fighting transnational crime, cyber crime and
cyber security."
   Mr. Barsky was reluctant to discuss Russia's recent sales of
combat-capable MI-17 helicopters to Thailand and other military items.
   "This is not the right place to describe what we do with Thailand
in terms of military and technical cooperation. This is a sensitive
issue. But believe me that this business is going on, and we are
supplying Thailand with the items that they are interested in, and we
are eager to expand the scope of our cooperation."
   Asked why he considered the issue sensitive, Mr. Barsky replied:
   "I'm sure that if you ask your American friends to tell you
everything about their military armament supplies to Thailand, they
will ask you to go to hell."
   In December, Russia delivered six "multifunctional MI-17 V-5
helicopters, ordered by the Royal Thai Army for purchase in 2014," the
Russian Embassy's website said.
   "This model of the famous Russian MI-17 helicopter can be used not
only for transportation purposes but also in combat," the embassy
   "This was the first time that the Thai military preferred a Russian
aircraft to a U.S.-made," the Russian news agency Tass reported.
   "Thailand plans to buy [an] additional batch of Russian Mi-17 V-5
helicopters," Tass reported on February 18.
   "We hope that the negotiations will bear fruit as early as this
year," a source in Singapore told Tass.
   Thailand previously purchased U.S.-built Black Hawk and Lakota
helicopters plus European helicopters.
   Buddhist-majority Thailand is a non-NATO treaty ally of the U.S. in
Southeast Asia.
   The Pentagon concluded its annual February 9-19 Cobra Gold military
exercise in Thailand alongside more than two dozen nations, including
combined arms live-fire practice and an assault in the countryside.
   "The political line of NATO toward Russia remains unfriendly and
closed," Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in a speech on
February 13 in Munich, Germany, responding to events in Syria.
   "It can be said more sharply: We have slid into a time of a new
Cold War," Mr. Medvedev said.
   During the 1945-1990 Cold War, Washington and Moscow fought proxy
wars during the 1960s-1980s in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Afghanistan
and elsewhere which killed hundreds of thousands of people.
   "The Thai government may be leaning further towards authoritarian
friends in Russia and China -- who are only too happy to overlook its
domestic troubles in exchange for mutually beneficial trade or
influence -- but in the modern context it is difficult to envision
Thailand returning to a situation as it was during the Cold War, where
its foreign relations were dominated by a single great power," said
Jacob Hogan, a fellow at the Institute of Security and International
Studies in the Political Science Faculty at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn
   In 2014, "Thailand's military government sought out more supportive
partners as Bangkok's post-coup d’état relations with the United
States, European Union and other democratic states in the region, such
as Japan and Korea, cooled," Mr. Jacob, an Australian, said in an
email interview on February 21.
   "But with the Russians and Chinese very happy to overlook
Thailand's domestic situation, in return for lucrative arms and energy
sales and business opportunities, many in Thailand are nervous about
the impact that these deepening relations with authoritarian states
will have on Thailand's long-term democratic consolidation," Mr. Jacob
   Responding to published reports that the junta wants to buy Russian
T-90 tanks, Ambassador Barsky said, "You know the saying: 'A puncher
always has a chance'."
   He said "of course" Moscow has a chance to sell tanks to Bangkok in
addition to other military equipment despite decades of weapons
supplies to Thailand by the U.S., China, Sweden and other countries.
   Thailand currently uses U.S.-built tanks, plus 10 recently
purchased T-84 Oplot tanks from Ukraine.
   Bangkok is also reportedly considering the purchase of Chinese tanks.
   "Arms sales is a business. And like in every other business there
is a competition. Of course Thailand is, to Russia, not a very
familiar market -- like China, or India, or Algeria, or Vietnam. So we
have to fight to get our position, to get our share of this market.
And to squeeze in a new market is not an easy job.
   "So we are trying our best. My impression is that Thailand is
wishing to diversify the sources of its armaments and this is why
Thailand is anxious to procure more weapons from China, the Republic
of Korea, India and Russia."
   The Kremlin's purported stance of "non-interference" in foreign
countries' domestic affairs is a better and more lucrative way to deal
with Thailand, compared to Washington's repeated criticism of the coup
regime's lack of human rights and elections, he said.
   "I talk to people from the government. I talk to people from the
business community. I talk to people when I go shopping. So to me it
is absolutely obviously that the policy of Russia towards Thailand not
only pays off, but it also corresponds with the wishes of the Thai
government and the Thai people."
   In 2006, then-Gen. Prayuth participated in a bloodless military
coup which ousted the popularly elected government of Prime Minister
Thaksin Shinawatra.
   In May 2014, Gen. Prayuth was army chief and seized power in a
second, more repressive putsch by toppling Mr. Thaksin's elected
sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
   In April 2015, Prime Minister Medvedev embraced Prime Minister
Prayuth in Bangkok without criticizing the coups or the junta's
chilling re-education camps and military trials for civilian
dissidents, cancellation of the constitution, and other limits on
basic human rights.
   "One of the things that Prayuth said is, 'We are very thankful to
Russia for their policy and the friendly help, the hand which was
stretched to Thailand at the difficult moment of Thai history.' This
is what they say, though I may not quote exactly," Mr. Barsky said.
   The ambassador was paraphrasing Mr. Prayuth's April statement:
"When a friend is in trouble, moral support from allies is needed.
Russia still chooses to be friends with Thailand today and we will
ensure the bond of friendship remains tight."
   Mr. Prayuth met Mr. Medvedev three times during the past 18 months.
   With large, grim, unsmiling photographs of Russia's previous
ambassadors hanging on a nearby wall, Mr. Barsky said, "Our relations
track back to 1891 when the Crown Prince of the Russian Empire,
Nikolas, visited Thailand and became friends with the Thai King Rama
the 5th.
   "When Nikolas became emperor, it was the turn of King Rama the 5th
to visit St. Petersburg. It was the capital of the Russian empire at
that time."