The recent discussions between the Cambodian and Russian governments regarding direct flights have drawn a mixed response from Russians living in the Kingdom.
The Agence Kampuchea Presse (AKP) reported that last week Russian Ambassador to Cambodia Dmitry Tsvetkov met Minister of Tourism Thong Khon to discuss the matter. The meeting is the latest in a long, winding effort to establish direct flights between the two countries.
Most Russian expats interviewed by Khmer Times supported the idea and expressed optimism about the establishment of a direct flight connecting the countries.
Russian businessman Sergey Sidenko said it is a good thing as direct flights will benefit tourists and expats from both countries.
More than 60,000 tourists from Russia visit Cambodia every year. There is also a significant number of Russian expats in the Kingdom, mostly living in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville.
“Look, I am a Russian living in Cambodia. To have a direct flight to Moscow (for example) is easier and cheaper for me and for my Russian friends who visit Cambodia. I think Cambodians who work in Russia think the same,” he said.
But Mr Sidenko, who is originally from Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East, cautioned that it is easier said than done.
“From a business perspective, I understand that it is necessary to have a regular stream of passengers between Russia and Cambodia, and currently we don’t have that. Also, such project needs strong support from the government and the business sector,” said Mr Sidenko, who operates the popular Party Patio Bar in Phnom Penh.
The same sentiment was shared by Tural Lachinov, a mining engineer with Chip Mong Group, a leading business conglomerate in the Kingdom. Mr Lachinov, who is originally from Norilsk, a remote part of Russia close to the Arctic Circle, has lived in Cambodia for the past six years.
“Yes, I heard about it. It is a good idea in general, especially for Cambodia,” he said.
Mr Lachinov said direct flights will bring more Russian tourists to Cambodia. “Sometimes, our people are lazy about changing planes many times, so they go to Vietnam and Thailand instead,” he pointed out.
According to Mr Lachinov, Russian tourists and expats often fly first to Thailand or Vietnam before taking a flight to Russia. The Phnom Penh-Bangkok-Novosibirsk and Phnom Penh-Bangkok-Moscow are the most popular routes for them, he said.
Aeroflot, Vietnam Airlines and a few other foreign carriers fly direct to Russia from Vietnam. From Thailand, it is Thai Airways and Aeroflot, with a few other foreign airlines in the mix.
But for some, such meetings and discussions are an exercise in futility.
A former travel agent who did not give his name said talks about such flights have been going on for the last 20 years with no significant results to show.
He said that even a high-level meeting involving then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev some years back did not produce any results. Mr Medvedev paid a state visit to Cambodia in 2015.
“I don’t believe it will happen soon,” the former travel agent said.
Direct flights, according to him, will not work well now because of the situation in Sihanoukville. “A very important aspect of it is that Sihanoukville right now is in a big mess because of the Chinese. There are almost no good beaches left in town. It is very dirty everywhere. It is not like it used to be,” he noted.
“And this is essential for Russian travellers because they will not come to Cambodia for a long distance and expensive flight just to see the Angkor temples. They want to relax on the beach and now it’s a disaster. This is why I think it also will not work very well,” he added.
Sihanoukville used to be a favourite destination for Russian tourists and investors.
While no airline has been mentioned in the negotiations, Aeroflot, Russia’s national carrier, would be the most logical choice for a Russia-Cambodia direct flight. Aeroflot already flies directly to Vietnam and Thailand and has a fleet of long-range jetliners like Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 that can fly directly to Cambodia from almost anywhere in Russia.
As for the route, the Phnom Penh-Moscow air route would likely be the first choice, with Siem Reap or Sihanoukville as secondary destinations.