Toast Speech by President Halimah Yacob at the State Banquet in honour of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin

Your Excellency, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin

 

Your Excellencies,

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

It gives me great pleasure to welcome Your Excellency on your first visit to Singapore. This visit caps off a year of festivities in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Russia. We also welcome Russia’s engagement of the region, and Your Excellency’s attendance at the 33rd ASEAN Summit.

 

Singapore and Russia are vastly different. Russia is one of the world’s largest countries, spanning 11 time zones with over 140 million residents. Singapore is only a fraction of Russia’s size; a small tropical country with limited resources. Despite these differences, our two countries have forged a long-standing friendship.

 

Singapore’s first Prime Minister, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, helped lay the foundations of friendship between our two countries. Since 1970, Mr Lee made frequent visits to Russia, which he continued even after stepping down as Prime Minister. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also met Your Excellency on several occasions, including during his visit to Russia in 2016.

 

The High-Level Russia-Singapore Inter-Governmental Commission (IGC), established in 2009, is a key platform that has helped advance ties between our two countries, especially in forging strong economic links. This year’s IGC identified new opportunities for collaboration, including in innovation, urban planning and transport. Many of the agreements and Memoranda of Understanding signed during Your Excellency’s visit were discussed at the IGC.

 

Singapore and Russia also have good parliamentary exchanges. It was no coincidence that my first official visit as Speaker of Parliament in April 2013 was to Russia at the invitation of the Chairperson of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation Valentina Matvienko.  During my official visit in 2013, our two countries signed the MOU on Parliamentary Relations and Cooperation between the Parliament of Singapore and the Russian Federation Council, which paved the way for stronger parliamentary exchanges between our two countries. In September this year, Singapore welcomed Russia at the 39th ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) General Assembly.

 

Over the past decade, bilateral trade rose from $1.9 billion to $7.4 billion. Currently, we have 690 Russian companies in Singapore in a variety of sectors. Singapore businesses have similarly ventured into various parts of Russia. We have companies in the Moscow, Tatarstan and Penza regions.  I understand that earlier today, Singapore Cooperation Enterprise has signed an agreement with the St Petersburg Government to cooperate in urban transport management.

 

The Eurasian Economic Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EAEU-Singapore FTA) that is being negotiated will further strengthen ties and benefit both Singapore and Russian companies. This FTA can also act as a pathfinder to an EAEU-ASEAN FTA, and deepen cooperation between our two fast-growing regions.

 

I am delighted to learn that people-to-people ties between Singapore and Russia are also growing. Two-way tourism has been steadily increasing, especially this year with many Singaporeans visiting Russia for the World Cup!  To mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two countries, we held commemorative exhibitions in Singapore and Moscow. Our two countries also released a joint stamp launch, featuring Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay and Moscow’s Zaryadye (zah-REE-YAH-dee-yeah) Park. Singapore hosted numerous Russian cultural performances, including one in May by the renowned St Petersburg Ballet Theatre which performed Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, and another later this month by the Moscow Suvorov Military Orchestra.

 

This afternoon, Your Excellency and I witnessed the groundbreaking ceremony for the Russian Cultural Centre (RCC). When completed, it will create more opportunities for cultural and people to people exchanges. This will help to foster greater mutual understanding of both countries among our peoples.

 

Your Excellency President Putin,

 

Distinguished Guests,

 

            As a Russian saying goes, “for a friend, seven miles is not too far”. Despite the distance and differences between our two countries, it has been a good 50 years of friendship. We look forward to strengthening this relationship in the next 50 years and beyond.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

May I now invite you to stand and join me in a toast to:

  • The good health and success of President Putin;
  • The progress and prosperity of the people of the Russian Federation; and
  • The close friendship between Singapore and Russia.