By Nontarat Phaicharoen
Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted an invitation to visit Thailand, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin wrote in a social media post, a day after the country announced an extension of the visa-exempt stay period for Russian tourists by two months.
Thailand’s new PM made the announcement on Tuesday after meeting with Putin in Beijing where he extended the invitation to the Russian leader, who faces an international arrest warrant on the world stage over alleged war crimes through the conduct of his war in Ukraine.
“I invited [Putin] to visit Thailand, and he nodded in appreciation, saying ‘Thank you’ in Thai. This shows that he has a good familiarity with our country,” Srettha said on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter. He noted that Putin has visited the Thai tourist town of Phuket several times.
The two leaders met on the sidelines of the Third Belt and Road Forum meeting, which China is hosting.
“He mentioned that Thailand and Russia have shared a relationship for 125 years. There have been various exchanges in terms of trade and culture. Over 1 million Russian tourists have visited Thailand in the past,” Srettha said.
On Monday, the Thai cabinet approved a measure to exempt visa stamping for Russians visiting the country for fewer than 90 days, an extension from the previous 30-day period.
The Thai prime minister said the extension, which Putin appreciated, would boost his country’s economy.
A statement released by Putin’s office also spoke of the prospect of greater economic relations between the two nations.
“I hope our joint trade commissions and economic collaborations will play a part in stimulating the economic interactions between us,” Putin said in the statement. “On our part, we will strive to enhance our relationship as robustly as possible and contribute to the development of our nations.”
It was not immediately clear when Putin might take up Srettha’s invitation and come to Thailand.
Piyapong Pimpalak, a professor at the Social Research Institute at Chiang Mai University, said Srettha’s government was trying to refrain from upsetting any major players.
“Thailand’s participation in international conferences to strengthen diplomatic relationships with various countries is commendable,” he said. “However, there are also aspects that merit caution because some fear that Thailand might be perceived as supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine.”
The Southeast Asian nation sought to maintain a neutral stance in the Russia-Ukraine conflict and has a mixed voting record in the United Nations regarding the Russian invasion.
In October 2022, Thailand abstained from a resolution that called on countries not to recognize Moscow’s annexation of Ukrainian territories and demanded its immediate reversal.
Previously, in March 2022, it voted to support a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and demanding troop withdrawal. One month later, Thailand and a majority of members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations abstained from voting to suspend Russia from the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Thailand is not a state party to the Rome Statute by which The Hague-based International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against Putin for his alleged role in crimes committed against Ukrainian children.
Putin previously canceled a visit to South Africa to attend a major global summit because the host nation, which had ratified the statute, would be obliged to carry out the warrant.
Thailand also maintains a treaty-bound security alliance with the United States, with a formal bilateral relationship dating back to 1833.
Piyapong noted that Prime Minister Srettha’s “salesman approach” in attracting foreign investment and strengthening economic ties has been met with mixed reactions at home.
“Some critics call it undignified or desperate, but others argue that it is a necessary step for Thailand to remain competitive in the global economy,” he said.
Srettha is scheduled to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday. Xi is hosting the summit to mark the 10th anniversary of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
He also met with top bosses of Chinese tech giants such as Alibaba and Huawei and dozens of business leaders.
Wilawan Watcharasakwej in Bangkok and Kunnawut Boonreak in Chiang Mai, Thailand, contributed to this report.