On power and respect: the change in Thai perception of Russia

The other day we went to a restaurant in Silom, Bangkok’s business district.  At the end of the dinner, I got to chat with our waitress, who upon learning where I am from, started waxing on lyrically about what a great, strong and admirable leader Putin is and what a great rich country Russia is.
I am not quite used to Thais enthusing about anything Russian at all. When I lived in Bangkok in the late 1990s, Russia was a defeated Communist tyranny fighting a poor self-image, hyper-inflation  and a complete rehaul of its entire way of life in the midst of Yeltsin’s lawlessness. I remember reading then an article in the Times of India to the effect that Russia, with its compromised economical and international clout, is now a poor cousin to ignore not an ally to side with. It sounded unpleasantly opportunistic, yet  it did, with unashamed honesty, describe the wide-spread perception of Russia at the time. In Thailand, Russians were the farang jon, ‘poor Caucasians’, stragely dressed and with little purchase power.
All that has changed with Putin dragging Russia out of the Hobbesian bellum omnium contra omnes that it was in the 1990s. Russia’s estimated 5 billion dollar annual investment into Thailand and the influx of cavalierly spending Russian tourists seem to caus a sea change in Thais’ ideas about the country. Besides such visible signs as the ubiquitous Russian-language signs and menus, the attitude has shifted too: neither any longer a feared Communist empire, nor a poor cousin of the farang world, Russia now seems to be admired mostly on the back of its economic resurrection.

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