A delegation from the Russian Federation led by Duma Vice President Valery Yazev met with Cambodian government officials this week, in the highest-level meetings between the two countries since Prime Minister Hun Sen visited Russia last year.
In meetings with Senate President Chea Sim, National Assembly President Heng Samrin, and other Cambodian officials, the Russian delegation discussed cultural exchange, energy, trade, investment and tax laws, debt relief and other economic issues, CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap and government adviser Koam Kosal said Thursday.
According to Cheam Yeap, who is chairman of the National Assembly’s Commission on Finance, the Russians agreed to provide more than 150 scholarships for Cambodian university students pursuing Masters and Doctorate degrees, particularly for those studying oil engineering and law.
“The Russians also raised the issue of nuclear energy because it is more useful than hydropower,” Cheam Yeap said.
Cheam Yeap said that the Russians made a verbal agreement to reduce Cambodia’s $1.52 billion debt to Russia by 70 percent, decreasing the debt to $457 million.
Cheam Yeap was apparently referring to the standard 70 percent discount Russia applies to all debts granted before 1992, an arrangement Russia adopted after joining the Paris Club of major creditors in 1997.
According to 2007 IMF and World Bank reports, Cambodia and Russia had already agreed upon this standard discount in earlier talks on debt forgiveness.
The $1.52 billion debt consists of money borrowed from the Russian Federation’s predecessor, the Soviet Union, during the 1970s and 1980s.
Koam Kosal, adviser to Heng Samrin, said that the Russian delegation did not discuss Cambodia’s debt in their meeting with Heng Samrin. “The government has a policy of changing the direction of the debt, which means either reducing it or investing it in other sectors, such as infrastructure,” Koam Kosal said.
Reached by phone, Russian Embassy officials said they were not prepared to comment on the delegation’s visit.