A little bit of Singapore was waiting for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday morning when he arrived in Russia's capital for a four-day working visit yesterday.
He met about 30 Singaporeans working and studying here at a reception. Among them were computer science graduate Lim Loon Haw and Singapore Airlines' Moscow station manager Derrick Leow.
Mr Lim, 25, said his attachment at software security company Kaspersky Lab has got him hooked on a field he had hardly given a second look.
"Cybersecurity is still not very popular in Singapore but here, in such a big company, I've been able to learn the breadth and depth of the field," he said.
But like Mr Leow, 32, he has been pleasantly surprised by Moscow. The city is safe, the people are friendly, and the changing seasons are beautiful.
Mr Leow added: "Once you break the ice, the people are very friendly. It's very different from how they are depicted in Hollywood."
Before the reception, PM Lee visited Red Square and the Kremlin, Russia's historic and political centre. At both tourist attractions, he met Singaporeans on holiday, including Mr Timothy Lim, 24, a student at New York University, and two students from Nanyang Technological University.
Said Mr Ignatius Wong, 25, a final-year accountancy student: "It's such a coincidence to bump into Mr Lee here; we saw some members of the delegation wearing Singapore lapel pins and wanted to say hi."
Later, PM Lee had lunch with members of the Singapore Business Federation delegation that is on a business mission to Russia.
Trade between Singapore and Russia has a lot of potential for growth, PM Lee had said in a wide- ranging interview with Tass news agency before his visit.
He hopes to give it a boost with the proposed free trade agreement between Singapore and the Eurasian Economic Union, of which Russia is a member.
He noted that the high-level Russia-Singapore Inter-Governmental Commission was set up in 2009 to beef up co-operation in such areas as trade, investment and education.
"There is active participation on both sides - government as well as business. But our trade is not in proportion to the potential," he said.
Though bilateral trade has about quadrupled in the last 10 years, Russia is still "just our 21st largest trading partner", he added.
In the same way, PM Lee said, "economic ties between ASEAN countries and Russia have been growing but (it is not) commensurate with the importance of Russia in the world. This is gradually changing".
A proposed free trade pact between Singapore and the Eurasian Economic Union will boost Russia's ties with individual ASEAN countries, which will "strengthen the ties between Russia and South-east Asia, and the ASEAN region as a whole", he added.
PM Lee's agenda includes meeting Russian businessmen and executives to "get them interested in Singapore a bit".
The last Singapore prime minister to go on such a mission was the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who visited the then Soviet Union in 1990.
PM Lee also disclosed that there are advanced plans to build a Russian Cultural Centre in Singapore.
"We have found a site and it is a good location," he said.
"I look forward to the day when we see a Russian Orthodox onion dome appearing in Singapore," he added, referring to the architecture of Russian churches.
This article was first published on May 18, 2016.
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