The Russian government has promised to train Cambodia’s National Police in combating terrorism and cybercrime, a partnership that analysts suggest could lead to an increase in oppressive tactics.
After a closed-door meeting on Tuesday attended by Interior Minister Sar Kheng, Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn and Russia’s ambassador to Cambodia, Dmitry Tsvetkov, a Russian government official told reporters the country had offered to assist Cambodia in strengthening anti-terrorism efforts and crackdowns on online crimes.
“His Excellency expressed his intention in helping training the Cambodian National Police in keeping security [to keep pace with] the global trends in newly developed areas, such as anti-terrorism and cybercrime issues and other works related to security,” said Phat Phanith, director of the International Relations Department.
According to Phanith, at the meeting Kheng asked relevant Interior Ministry departments to come up with their requests for Russian assistance, which he could then present to the ambassador. Kheng “approves of the good intention of helping to train Cambodia National Police”, he said.
The meeting came on the same day as the release of a new report detailing how Cambodian laws muzzle online expression, and a day before Cambodia sank 10 spots on the World Press Freedom Index. In the past, Cambodia’s Press and Quick Reaction Unit has teamed with Russia’s government-owned news agency to help prevent a purported “colour revolution”.
While Prime Minister Hun Sen recently claimed to have foiled a “terrorist plot”, it has been panned by sceptical analysts as a fear-inducing fabrication to score political points. Meanwhile, in the online sphere, multiple people have been arrested recently for Facebook videos criticising the government, and a draft cybercrime law could further restrict dissent and online freedoms.
Russia has recently been criticised for its own crackdown on social media. Just last week, the Kremlin threatened to block Facebook and encrypted messaging service Telegram. State-sponsored Russian online troll factories have also been accused of interfering in the last US election.
The former Soviet Union has “long proven its worth in the field of internal security, controlling cyber-crime and engaging in repression”, according to Paul Chambers, a lecturer at Naresuan University in Thailand.
“Since 2016 Hun Sen appears to have adopted a Gestapo Chief approach to silencing dissent,” he said in an email.
“Russia’s cyber-assistance and other oppressive methods might help Cambodia’s Prime Minister to achieve his goal of absolute control. What Hun Sen can learn from Putin is how to better use military and computer tactics to fully quell his opponents.”