Dr Ralph Gonsalves
News
March 4, 2022
Vincentian students in Russia not unsafe – PM

More and more students from countries across the globe have been fleeing from Ukraine after the Russian Federation invaded the territory last week in what they described as a “special military operation”.

And though it is Russia’s armed forces that have invaded Ukraine, students have also been taking flights back to their respective countries as concerns build around the possible threat of a wider conflict, given President Vladimir Putin’s decision to place his country’s nuclear forces on high alert.

Meanwhile, local concerns are also building for Vincentians pursuing studies in the Russian Federation as the rest of the world continues to look closely at the events unfolding around the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves told SEARCHLIGHT Thursday that “there is nothing untoward” taking place in relation to the safety of Vincentian students in Russia.

Earlier this week opposition leader, Dr Godwin Friday called on the prime minister to bring these students home and to send a strong message to the transcontinental country that their actions are unacceptable.

There are at least eight Vincentians currently pursuing studies in the Russian Federation.

While speaking on radio on Monday, February 28, Friday said he understood that at least two of those studying in Russia were police officers who were engaged in training.

“What are our police officers doing training in Russia? What could they teach us about policing in a democracy?,” Friday said on the New Times programme.

The opposition leader said SVG can send that message by bringing the students home, “not necessarily because you feel they’re at risk — but because you’re saying that programme, we cannot continue it under these conditions”.

“Bring the police officers here. I mean, whether they should be there in the first place — but the point is if they’re there and they’re doing training, bring them here, you don’t want them to be learning any of those things; that this is a normal way in which we are going to conduct affairs whether it’s domestic or international,” he added.

Drawing on examples of actions taken both by countries, organisations and business entities such as FIFA and British Petroleum (BP), Friday expressed the need to demonstrate disapproval of Russia’s actions.

“…And the way that you do it is by essentially ending those relationships, putting them on hold and saying until there is a cessation of the conflict, until there’s a withdrawal…and until we have this matter being dealt with diplomatically, essentially be part of the civilised conduct of affairs in the world, we are not going to continue to do business with you in this way,” he said.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe and Russia have placed bans on each others’ airlines from traversing their respective airspaces.

The US on Wednesday also placed a ban on Russian airlines entering its airspace as well.

Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves told SEARCHLIGHT that as it relates to Vincentians in Russia, his government “will keep the matter under review and we will provide all reasonable assistance and everything we can do if there is any difficulty but none has been reported to us”.

He also said that the government is in contact with students both via the country’s mission in London and through the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO).

“The CPO from our end, has a direct link with one of our students. I understand he is…the main organisational person for the students. They wouldn’t all be in one place but obviously, they would be in touch,” Gonsalves said, adding that reports from both links of communication have indicated that “there is nothing untoward” currently taking place.

The prime minister added that he had also spoken with at least one parent so far who indicated that her son had not reported any issues to her.

“In fact, she said to me that all her son said to her was that it looks as though he wouldn’t see her for a little while because the airspace is closed but that is going to Europe,” the prime minister said, given the aircraft bans that have been imposed.

He also noted that while there might be other routes out of Russia, those routes were likely to be more expensive.

Gonsalves expressed uncertainty as to how long the airline prohibitions may last but added that “the students…there is nothing which is unsafe for them at the moment because no military activity is taking place of a contentious kind inside of Russia”.

Unlike other Caribbean countries like Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines does not have students pursuing studies in Ukraine, where military activity is concentrated.

And in relation to the possibility of Vincentians in Ukraine, the prime minister said: “We have Vincentians all over the world and there may be somebody there from St Vincent or a couple persons, I don’t know, but nobody has reported that to us. We wouldn’t have a record of that unless we send them but we will always be very concerned about our students’ safety and security anywhere”.