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Russia proposes over a dozen projects in Nepal in fresh push in the Himalayas

Russia has recently made a fresh push to engage with Nepal

Kathmandu: Russia has asked for detailed project proposals from Nepal for over a dozen projects including railways, roads and hospitals that could be developed and operated with Moscow’s support.

The Russian request comes after a meeting held between Nepal’s National Assembly Chairman Ganesh Prasad Timilsina and his Russian counterpart Valentina Matvienko in April during the former’s official visit to Russia.

According to a recent press statement issued by Timilsina’s office, the Russian embassy in Nepal, in a letter on May 4, has asked the Nepali government to move forward with project proposals to build and operate various projects with potential Russian partnership.

The Office of the Upper House Chairperson said that Timilsina had discussed these projects with his Russian counterpart as well as other top government officials during his visit to Russia from April 19 to April 24.

The Russian proposal to Nepal has come at a time when it has been facing isolation and sanctions from most of the western world and Moscow is aiming to strengthen its relations with countries other than the West.

Even though Nepal has been voting in favour of the United Nations resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the UN, it has not stopped Russia from extending its hand of cooperation to Nepal.

The projects whose details project proposals were sought by Russia include: construction of electric railways, highways, and cancer hospitals for children along with increasing the scholarship quota for Nepali students to study in Moscow. Russia has also proposed to provide petroleum products directly to Nepal, according to the statement.

India and China, two neighbouring countries of Nepal, are receiving Russian oil at discounted prices benefiting their economies even though the western countries have imposed sanctions on Russia’s oil and gas sector.

As per the statement, Russia has asked for a project proposal to construct the proposed East-West Electric Railway and a railway similar to the Moscow Railway in the capital Kathmandu and to build the Pokhara-Ridi road connecting Nepal’s key tourist destination, Pokhara, to nearby tourist spots.

“As per Chairman Timilsina’s proposal, Russia has shown interest to build this road with its own investment,” reads the statement. “The estimated cost for the construction of the Pokhara-Ridi road is nearly NPR Rs4 billion.”

Russia has also shown interest in building two cancer hospitals for children in Kathmandu and Pokhara. “Russia has proposed to make arrangements of Russian doctors at the initial stage in the proposed hospitals who will share their expertise with Nepali doctors,” the statement reads.

According to Timilsina’s office, Russia has also aimed to increase the scholarship quota for Nepali students to 150-200 annually to study medical and engineering in Russia from the current 18 only.

Likewise, Russia has also desired to start direct flights between Nepal and Russia and sell its helicopters that have proven themselves in the mountainous condition of Nepal and motor vehicles appropriate for Nepal’s hilly roads.

Timilsina’s office has also recalled his talk with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko where the Russian side had also shown interest to export its chemical fertilisers and wheat to Nepal under a government-to-government arrangement.

Because of the Russia-Ukraine war, prices of chemical fertilisers have surged globally which has made it impossible for poor countries like Nepal to afford fertilisers in the international market.

During the visit, he had held discussions regarding the projects with the Chairwoman of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation, the Upper House of Russia, Valentina Matviyenko, the Speaker of the Russian Lower House, the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, and the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko.

Timilsina has urged Nepali government leaders, including Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, to prepare proposals for the implementation of the projects with potential cooperation with Russia. “Various ministries have started to prepare proposals as well,” Timilsina’s office said.

Analysts point out that despite the Russian push, the Nepal government’s position is hard to gauge.

“I am not sure how seriously Nepal government has taken the Russian proposal as it has been made public by the chairperson of upper house instead of government,” Nepal’s former Ambassador to Russia Surya Kiran Gurung. He added that, “Irrespective of how the Russian proposal transpired, this may be a Russian effort to keep in its fold or keep neutral like India and China.”