Russia usually does not make statements about Sri Lanka’s internal political issues. However, when the American ambassador to Sri Lanka, Julie Chung, criticised the government’s online bill, the Russian ambassador tweeted in support of it, referring to it as an internal issue in Sri Lanka. Russia’s response surprised both the diplomatic and political circles of Colombo. After the Russian Ambassador’s message, the British, Australian and Canadian High Commissions issued tweets criticising Sri Lanka’s online bill.
Former Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera accused Russia during the Maithri-Ranil government of 2015-2019. On July 17, 2018, Mangala said in a public meeting in Matara that Russia is supporting Namal Rajapaksa’s anti-government social media project. The spokesperson of the Russian Embassy in Sri Lanka had told the Island newspaper that the Russian government had asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for an explanation in this regard.
Before Mangala’s controversial statement, several non-governmental organizations, including the Groundviews website, had mentioned that Namal Rajapaksa was manipulating social media with the help of Russia and that Social media tools used by Russia for Trump’s victory in America were being used by Namal for a campaign against the Maithri-Ranil government. Namal Rajapaksa had already visited Russia three times in five years. Once, when he was to leave Russia for the United States, the United States prevented him from entering their country.
Russia did not respond to the social media accusation of Mangala on Russia. But today, the Russian ambassador has issued the first statement issued by a Russian ambassador in Sri Lanka on an internal issue in Sri Lanka regarding the online bill. It is unclear whether Russia is making that statement to show its loyalty to the government or to respond to the American ambassador. But from that statement, Russia’s interest in Sri Lanka is clear. The Russian ambassador has been negotiating with Sri Lanka for nuclear energy collaboration and building a nuclear power plant for some time. Recently, the Chairman of the Russian Defense Council visited Sri Lanka and met President Ranil and discussed this nuclear collaboration.
Russia’s response to the online bill is surprising, but the response of the Western countries led by America to the online bill is insufficient. The U.S. has great interest in Sri Lanka. Head of US Aid Samantha Power once came to Sri Lanka for Mangala’s event and gave lectures on democracy, press freedom and the role of social media. Ranil had recently said that he is here because of Samantha Power. It is a mystery why Samantha Power forgot to talk about the online bill when she met Ranil in the Maldives.