PHNOM PENH — Russia is attempting to expand its influence in Southeast Asia through meetings and plans with Association of Southeast Asian Nations members, say analysts, but appears not to have the military or financial power to become a larger player in the region.
The effort includes Russian adoption of a five-year roadmap focused on trade and investment cooperation, the digital economy and sustainable development with the 10 ASEAN members.
Meanwhile, at the Sixth Eastern Economic Forum held last month in Vladivostok, Vietnam offered itself as a bridge to connect ASEAN to Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union – an economic grouping including Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan — with analysts forecasting Moscow would seek to shore up regional political ties in response to diplomatic shifts in the Indo-Pacific region.
“Russia wants to be seen as a global power for its own domestic audience,” said Bradley Murg, of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace.
“It wants to be seen as not just as a regional entity, and Southeast Asia is a relatively easy way to enter,” he said, adding that access to the Sputnik COVID-19 vaccine and the opening of trade corridors through China’s Belt and Road Initiative were providing additional incentives for Southeast Asian countries to improve ties with Russia.
“With the expansion of infrastructure, the expansion of Belt and Road and the connections to Southeast Asia to Central Asia to Europe through the Silk Road initiative, and as that’s connected to the economic corridors in Southeast Asia, there are arguments for increased trade,” Murg said.
Likes and dislikes
Another analyst said Russia was “privately outraged” by the AUKUS naval alliance – forged by Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States – and the rise of the Quad, which comprises Australia, India, Japan and the United States. Both were designed to counter Chinese influence.
“One of the most fashionable trends today is the so-called Indo-Pacific strategies that are invented by the United States,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the recent 29th Assembly of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, a Moscow-based organization of high-level officials, executives and academics.
“All of this follows the line of eroding the universal formats in the Asia-Pacific region which existed for the past decades under the auspices of ASEAN,” he said.
His criticisms were delivered as the Russian government news agency Tass reported a detachment of ships and submarines had sailed into the Indian Ocean en route to a permanent deployment as part of Russia’s Pacific Fleet.
Lavrov also found support in Malaysia, where Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told parliament that AUKUS “could also provoke other powers to act more aggressively in this region, particularly the South China Sea.”
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