Russia and the Maldives develop common interests
by Olivia Kroth
Diplomatic relations between the USSR and the Republic of Maldives were established in 1966 but remained moderate. This year, however, both countries decided to develop their common interests further. In June 2019, the Maldivian Minister of Defence visited Moscow and took part in an International Security Conference in Ufa, Bashkortostan. In July 2019, a visa-free travel regime for tourists was established between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Maldives. Both countries have also established inter-parliamentary contacts and are developing cooperation in the field of law enforcement. Trade turnover between Russia and the Republic of Maldives amounted to 3.347 million US dollars, in 2018. Aeroflot Russian Airlines conducts regular flights between Moscow and Male, five times per week. Russia is also giving scholarships to Maldivian students and helps to train specialists in diverse fields. Due to the Maldives’ geographical location in the Indian Ocean, the chain of 26 atolls has acquired strategic and geopolitical importance for the building of Russian seapower around the globe.
On the 25th of July 2019, the agreement on bilateral visa-free travel between Russia and the Maldives came into force. According to the agreement, citizens of Russia can stay in the Maldives for 90 days on tourist trips and in transit without a visa. The same applies for citizens of the Maldives when travelling to Russia. Citizens of both countries still need to get a visa if they plan to work, study or permanently reside in the other country. The inter-governmental agreement on bilateral visa-free travel was signed in Moscow by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Maldivian counterpart Abdulla Shahid, on the 25th of June 2019 (TASS, 25.07.2019).
The Maldives are a popular tourist destination for Russians. In 2018, over 38.000 Russian citizens vacationed there. The issue of further developing tourist exchange will be considered in more detail, when the Maldivian Tourism Minister Ali Vakhid will visit Russia in autumn. The main purpose of visiting the Maldives is rest, relaxation and water sports. Russian visitors also regard privacy as an important motivator to visit the Maldives. Travel and Leisure Magazine ranked the Maldives as number 5 in the World List of “15 Best Islands”. The list is based on readers’ votes. The Maldives received a score of 90.48 points in the survey, 5th place behind Milos, Greece.
Luxury holiday resort in the Maldives:
In Moscow Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid also held discussions with the Russian Government on increasing the varieties of fish products exported to Russia from the Maldives. Recent statistics show that fish products worth over $ 199 million were exported to Russia from the Maldives, in 2017 (avas.mv, 26.06.2019). The Maldives have an abundance of aquatic life and species of fish but tuna is the main fish for export.
There are two canning factories for tuna fish in the islands, with a third being opened in August 2019. “Canned tuna produced in the Ensis Factory in Hulhumale is set to be released in August 2019. This information was revealed by the Managing Director of the company, Mr. Mohamed Waseem. The canned tuna exports will begin in October 2019. With a 1500 metric ton cold storage and 25 ton cannery, this is the third canning factory in the Maldives” (MALDIVES TIMES, 24.07.2019).
Tuna fish market in the Maldives:
Furthermore, Russian and Maldivian common interests concern the areas of defence and security. In June 2019, The Maldives Defence Minister, Mariya Ahmed Didi, took part in the 10th International Security Conference, which was held in Ufa, Bashkortostan. She met with Nikolai Patrushev, former Director of FSB and now Secretary of the Russian Security Council, who had sent her a special invitation for the event.
During her meeting with Nikolai Patrushev, mutual cooperation in the security sector was discussed, in addition to exchange of information related to international terrorism. Mariya Ahmed Didi also held a speech at the conference in Ufa, which was attended by 120 representatives from several countries across the globe (avas.mv, 20.06.2019).
The 10th International Conference on Security represented one of the few global examples of multilateral meetings between high-level representatives of countries that are in conflict. At the meeting of three days, humanitarian crises, hybrid warfare, terrorist threats and ways to recover from armed conflict were discussed. The political climate in Ufa was serene and inclined to favour dialogue and collaboration.
Secretary of Russian Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, at the International Security Conference in Ufa, Bashkortostan (first row, left):
The Defence Minister of the Maldives, Mariya Ahmed Didi, also met with Russia’s Defence Minister in Moscow for talks. The website of the Russian Ministry of Defence reported: “Russian Defence Minister General of the Army Sergei Shoigu and the Head of the Military Department of the Maldives Mariya Ahmed Didi discussed priorities for bilateral cooperation. The parties noted the prospects of Russian-Maldivian cooperation and discussed the practical steps of its consistent development. Sergei Shoigu invited his colleague personally, as well as Maldivian specialists, to attend the ARMY 2019 International Military and Technical Forum (June 25-30, 2019) and the International Army Games 2019 (August 3-17, 2019).”
Mariya Ahmed Didi noted that “for a long time such relations have been developed between both countries, in particular, Russian equipment was delivered to our country. And in the future, of course, we want to continue this relationship. We attach great importance to today’s meeting. We have the opportunity to exchange views, meet face to face those who are responsible for the defence in their states. When the dialogue is conducted in a personal manner, of course, the relationship goes to a whole new level”(MINISTRY OF DEFENCE OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION, 21.06.2019).
Defence Minister of the Maldives, Mariya Ahmed Didi:
Mariya Ahmed Didi was born in Malé, in 1963. She is the Maldives first female lawyer and first Defence Minister. She has a Bachelor’s degree in law and a Master’s degree in law from the University of Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom. After completion of her professional qualifications in the UK, she became a barrister of the prestigious Gray’s Inn, having done her pupillage at Albion Chambers, Bristol.
Back home in the Maldives, she became a member of parliament and sat in the drafting committee of the 2008 Constitution. She was elected as chairperson of a major political party in the Maldives, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). It was under her chairmanship that the party won the multiparty democratic presidential elections, held in 2008. On the 17th November 2018, she became Minister of Defence. Mariya Ahmed Didi is married and has three children: a daughter and two sons.
Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP):
It migt be astonishing, that the Maldives have a female Minister of Defence, since the military is usually dominated by men. However, there is a trace of matriarchy, dating back to ancient Dravidian times, when each Maldivian atoll was ruled by a chief queen. In the 12th century, with the arrival of Islam, the Maldives turned into a Sultanate but the status of women remained high.
The Maldives witnessed five sultanas, female monarchs. Sultana Kadeejah ruled during the second half of the 14th century, from 1347 to 1380. She was followed by Sultana Raadhafati, in 1380, and Sultana Dhaain, from 1383 to 1388. Sultana Kala Kamanafa’anu ruled from 1607 to 1609, and Sultana Amina from 1757 to 1759. The official title for these female rulers was “Lady of twelve thousand isles, Sultana of the Maldives”.
Especially noteworthy is Sultana Khadeejah, the eldest daughter of Sultan Omar I of the Maldives. She was not at all shy in maintaining her rule. She had her brother and two husbands murdered, because they wanted to grab the power from her. In spite of the three assassinations, Sultana Kadeejah is one of the most popular historic figures of the Maldives. Her biography has captivated the Maldivians for generations.
The Republic of Maldives is the smallest Asian country, located in the Indian Ocean, southwest of Sri Lanka and India. The Maldives consist of 1.192 coral islands, grouped in a double chain of 26 atolls. For administrative purposes, the Maldivian Government has organised the atolls into 21 administrative divisions. This measure echoes the old Dravidian tradition, when each Maldive atoll was ruled by a chief queen. The chain of 26 atolls stretches from Ihavandhippolhu Atoll in the north to Addu Atoll in the south, comprising a territory of 300 square kilometres.
An atoll is a ring-shaped coral reef, including a coral rim that encircles a lagoon. All land above the surface in the Maldives is of coralline origin. Owing to the many beautiful diving grounds of the Maldivian atolls, this country has become a favourite destination for scuba divers. There are broad channels between the atolls, named “kandu“. These were important for ancient mariners on the spice route to bypass the long atoll chains without harm. The most important channels were the Maliku Kandu, Kardiva Kandu and Suvadiva Kandu.
The word atoll comes from the Dhivehi language spoken on the Maldive Islands. “Atholhu” means an administrative subdivision. The Dhivehi language is closely related to the Sinhalese language of neighbouring Sri Lanka. The Maldives have a continuous written history of about 800 years, dating back to the 12th century. The oldest inscription was found on a coral stone, which is estimated to be from around the 7th or 8th century.
The Spanish scholar Xavier Romero-Frias, who lived several years in the Maldives, translated 80 folk tales from the Dhivehi language and edited them in his book, “Folk Tales of the Maldives” (2012). He collected these stories during the decades he lived in the islands among islanders. The introduction to his book gives valuable background material about types and categories of Maldivian oral tradition and literature. In its pages readers will find stories of spirits and sea monsters, tales featuring humorous characters and seafarers, as well fables with talking animals. A helpful glossary, bibliography, index and map of the atolls round out the value of this book.
Dhivehi is written from right to left:
Malé is the capital and the most populated city, located on the atoll Malé. Traditionally it was the King’s Island, from where the ancient monarchs ruled and where the palace was located. Formerly, Malé was surrounded by a wall with fortifications and gates. Malé was fortified in the 17th century by Sultan Muhammad Imaduddin. The old forts and the wall were dismantled in 1925 under the reign of Sultan Muhammad Shamsuddin III, when roads were widened and straightened.
The city was remodelled under President Ibrahim Nasir’s rule in the aftermath of the abolition of the monarchy, in 1968. Only the National Museum building, residence of the last sultan, as well as the Malé Friday Mosque remain. In recent years, the island has been considerably expanded through land-filling operations. Many government buildings and agencies are located on the waterfront. The international airport on adjacent Hulhule Island is linked to Malé by the Sinamalé Bridge, which was opened to traffic in October 2018.
In the old quarters of Malé:
What makes the smallest country in Asia so interesting for Russia, the largest country on earth? The Russian Federation has an area of 17.1 million square kilometres and spans a total of nine time zones. The geostrategic and geopolitical importance of the Indian Ocean is widely understood by maritime historians and strategists. The 21st century Indian Ocean receives great attention from extra-regional states because it holds some of the most important sea lines of communication in the world. As the Russian Federation is building up its sea power, the Russians need to be present in the Indian Ocean.
Sea power is a much larger concept than only maritime warfare. The sea can be used as a resource. It is also a medium of domination, information, transportation. The Russian Federation wants to make good use of these possibilities, paying close attention to what is happening in the Indian Ocean, the world’s third largest ocean. Security in this region is of major importance to all global players, including Russia.
Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Moscow.
This text was also published in THE DURAN: