November perhaps represents a new ‘Dawn’ for the Caribbean, with humble beginnings in the spice isle of Grenada, with one of the most powerful nations in the world – Russia tabling an interesting proposal.
So, what was Russia doing in the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada? Ushering a New Dawn of course. This is the intrepid title given to a full day forum with some of the biggest names in academia, media and economic entities.
The event saw regional journalist, Russian academia, tech and financial businessmen from Russia, USA and the UK converging in Grenada under the patronage of the Grenadian Government and Russian embassy. Antigua Chronicle had the unique opportunity to attend and participate in this remarkable venture.
In a 21st century era where global discussions are centred on bilateral relations with key stakeholders in government and the private sector, open, frank and edifying forums are at the very heart of development; especially in small island developing economies. However, history plays a major role for establishing such bilateral relations with countries that are literally on the other side of the hemisphere. Here, we see Grenada in 1979 witnessing one of the most dramatic political revolution in the Caribbean since the Cuban revolution. History reminds us of the American invasion into the island and an almost economic and regional distancing from Grenada. History also reminds us of the support and aid Grenada received from the Russian Federation and the diplomatic ties these two sovereign countries have shared since. With now even closer ties with the introduction of Visa-free travel between the two nations. (St. Kitts and Nevis have also gained this travel free restriction). It was by no surprise a New Dawn, the first ever joint Russian/Eurasian-Caribbean economic, media and academic forum was staged in the island of Grenada.
With history now being established, what does this mean for the rest of the region? Why do we need each other?
This question was the foundation of the day-long robust forum chaired by the Hon. Minister Nickolas Steele, Minister of International Business in the government of Grenada, Dr. Sergey Brilev, President of IBBA and deputy director of TV Channel “Russia – 1” , along with Oleg Firer, Ambassador of Grenada to the Russian Federation. All three candid presenters moderated three working sessions during the forum.
The Hon Minister Nickolas Steele chaired the first forum presentation which featured speakers such as Mr. David Lord, CARICOM deputy programme Manager for external economic and trade relations, Mr. Kirill Kaem- Senior Vice president for Innovation at the Skolovo Foundation, Mr Maxim Yusin Deputy director of foreign news desk at the Kommersant Daily and Dr. Elana Pleukhova, Head of Department and Associate Professor at the Kazan Federal University. The highly experienced panelist spoke openly on the need for Grenada and the rest of the region to look at International relations on a more global scale as opposed to playing geo-politics. Bilateral Relations is what the region depends on for every aspect of our small economies, whether it be tourism, agriculture or technology.
Minister Steele in his opening remarks reminded the audience of the unique relationship Grenada has with Russia despite the geographical distance and the support his island has had thus far.
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to Guyana Barbados, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, H. E. Ambassador Nikolai D, Smirnov, reiterated the support of Russia to the region by listing the many programs in which the federation gives to the islands. These included academic scholarships, police and law enforcement training and now Visa Free travel for both Grenada and St. Kitts and Nevis to make trade and business far easier.
The question was poised to Mr. Lord from CARICOM as to what exactly can the region benefit from Russia on an individual basis. Mr. Lord responded that it is “CARICOM’s responsibility to foster and facilitate the environment in which Russian Businesses can find in the region.” He went onto to explain that forums such as this taking place in Grenada as well as the plans for Russian technological institutions in Grenada will be used as a spring board for the other islands to benefit from as well.
Other questions such as aid assistance for the region was thrown out to the panellist however Minister Steele from the Government of Grenada quickly addressed it with a sense of vigour.
“This business of handouts or looking for handouts is not how we will do business. It is time for a change, a 90 degree change on how we handle business and international relations. We are looking partnerships and not handouts”, Minister Steele commented.
The spice isle government Minister went on to state that he believes Russia needs to establish individual embassies or missions in each island so that they can foster more cultural ties with the islands. Similar to what China does. The minister believes this would be the best way forward to ensure this partnership with Russia does not make any other relationship with our other allies uncomfortable.
Mr. Chetwynd Bowling, Honorary Consul of Jamaica to the Russian Federation also commented that in Jamaica, the tourism and business community are actively seeking partnership and marketing opportunities in Russia.
By the end of the working sessions, it was clear that there is a common view as to how Russia and region can work hand in hand for development. However, there was another scope to the day long forum. Tech Horizons, a new initiative to be introduced in Grenada was a focal point of presentations and discussions during the sessions. This aspect was moderated by Mr. Oleg Firer, ambassador of Grenada to the Russian Federation, who immediately stated that Grenada would be a technological and innovation hub in the region.
His assertions were further supported by Mr. Kirill Kaem, from the Skolkovo Foundation who spoke in-depth of how his foundation’s mandate to work on developing partnerships and support of start-up companies can and will benefit Grenada along with the wider region. With a focus on biomedical technologies clusters, Mr. Kaem reiterated that with these closer ties with the federation and work in progress for technological development in Grenada, opportunities for both people and businesses to attract start up support will be accessible. He noted that with the presence of one of the largest Caribbean based medical universities, St. Georges University, present on island, focus on education and technology is already in place. Their work in Grenada would begin by creating an innovation centre with training and development access.
A New Dawn, though the first ever of its kind in the region presented a unique and alternative platform for bilateral talks between these two nations, something that will hopefully breathe new air into regional relations with the federation. Russia has the resources that we can benefit from, human resources, may it be in the form of technological human capital, scientist or business investments, while the Caribbean, out side of beautiful beaches, can offer much more.
The forum’s brain child, Dr. Sergey Brilev pointed out that many Russians may only know of the islands during the Olympic ceremonies, however he stated that the Caribbean offers more, with over sixteen million people, voting power in international organizations such as the UN and our diverse economies.
This academic, media and economic forum will hopefully materialize into many others of the like as the region now looks at bilateral regions on a much larger scale.