Diplomatic relations between Ceylon, as Sri Lanka was known then, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the predecessor state of the Russian Federation. Sri Lanka recognized the Russian Federation as the successor state of the former USSR on 28 December 1991. Bilateral relations between the two countries which are founded on strong and ancient bonds of friendship have deepened and expanded during the last 59 years. The establishment of diplomatic relations has boosted the speedy development of mutually beneficial bilateral contacts in various spheres.
Following the establishment of diplomatic relations and setting up resident diplomatic missions in each other’s capitals, a solid base for mutual cooperation was laid down in the 1960s through bilateral agreements signed by our countries in the spheres of trade and economy, science, technology, education and culture. At the same time, the two countries reached agreement on opening of air and sea travel routes and on training of Sri Lankan specialists in the USSR.
USSR, and subsequently Russia, has become a popular destination for Sri Lankan students pursuing higher education. It is estimated that todate about five thousand Sri Lankans have graduated in various fields from universities of former USSR and Russia. They are serving as experts in various fields in Sri Lanka contributing to the development of the nation. Russia continues to provide about 40 state scholarships annually for Sri Lankan students.
The two countries have always closely cooperated in the international arena sharing common views on the need to build a democratic, fair and equitable world setup, ensuring a central role for the UN and its Security Council in international relations, fighting international terrorism, in disarmament, prevention of space militarization etc.
High level visits between the two countries have contributed to foster closer cooperation. The state visits of late Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike to Moscow in 1963 and 1974 are significant among them. President Mahinda Rajapaksa also visited Russia twice, in February 2010 and in June 2011. Meetings of Foreign Ministers of our countries have taken place in Moscow in January 2001 and in June 2004. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Sri Lanka in October 2009.
There has been progress in the field of military and technical cooperation and military training programmes offered to the Sri Lanka Armed Forces.
Both countries enjoy the gradual growth of bilateral trade. Russia remains the leading importer of Sri Lankan tea. Besides tea, Russia imports from Sri Lanka rubber, leather, spice and garments. And Sri Lanka imports from Russia steel, ferrous metal, newsprint, asbestos, fertilizers, and electrical equipment. The balance of trade has continuously been in favor of Sri Lanka stood at US $ 13.46 million in 2014. Russia became the 8th leading buyer of Sri Lankan products absorbing 2.5% of Sri Lanka’s total exports to the world in 2014.
Sri Lanka is steadily becoming one of the popular destinations for Russian tourists. Russia and Sri Lanka cooperate with each other in wide range of vital political issues, including in the international action against terrorism. Russia, itself a victim of the menace of terrorism, has pledged its support to Sri Lanka to fight terrorism. Commencement of direct flights by the SriLankan Airlines between Colombo and Moscow in 2011 has resulted in a significant growth in tourism. 69,718 Russian tourists visited Sri Lanka in 2014, compared to 21,385 tourist arrivals in 2011.
There is much scope for expanding the economic partnership between our two countries and to diversify the trade relations into new areas. Tea in value added form, natural rubber, industrial and house-hold rubber articles, leather/canvas footwear, coconut and coconut based products, garments and garment accessories, gems and jewelry, ceramic and porcelain products, wooden and soft toys, processed foods, spices in value added form, cashew nuts, Gherkins and ornamental fish are some of the potential products for Russian market.