“We are united by a common vision of the modern polycentric world order, by our concurring or close assessments of the ongoing processes in the world and in the Asia-Pacific region,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on August 2 in his opening remarks at the Russia-ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Singapore.
The event will be followed by a Russia-ASEAN Economics Ministers’ meeting to take place in Singapore at the end of August. ASEAN member states are expected to have a wide representation at the Fourth Eastern Economic Forum to be held from September 11 to 12 in Vladivostok.
Moscow joined ASEAN as a full dialogue partner in 1996. In 2004, it signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC). It has since become a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the Post Ministerial Conferences (PMCs) 10+1, ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus and the East Asia Summit.
Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to attend a Russia-ASEAN summit on the fringes of the 18-member East Asia Summit (EAS) slated for November in Singapore – the first time Russia will be represented by the head of state instead of prime minister. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong invited the Russian leader to the event. The EAS is held annually to bring together the leaders of Asia-Pacific states, including the US, Russia and China. The first summit was held in 2005. President Putin’s participation is an important sign that Russia is ready to promote its vision of East Asian security architecture at the highest levels.
Moscow has a lot to offer to East Asia, including partnerships in technology, counter-terrorism, arms trade and energy. Russian energy exports to ASEAN have increased fivefold since 2013. Russia is holding talks with Thailand on liquefied natural gas (LNG) and oil exports. The relationship may deepen. Moscow is interested in transport, logistics, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. The development of the Eastern Economic Corridor is likely to attract Russian investors.
Moscow has come up with an initiative to boost the regional cooperation. At the Russia-ASEAN summit in Sochi in May 2016 Russian President Vladimir Putin introduced for consideration the Greater Eurasia project, or the Greater Eurasian Partnership, to create a common space through agreed rules and standards, joint projects and trade facilitation. Economic, logistic, information and security cooperation is to encompass the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the countries involved in the integration of the China’s One Belt One Road initiative. The SCO can act as a binder in this construction.
In 2016, the Eurasian Union and Vietnam signed a free trade area (FTA) agreement and memoranda of cooperation with Cambodia and Singapore, which could be viewed as first steps on the way. An FTA is being negotiated between the EAEU and Singapore.
In August, 2017 the SCO and ASEAN secretaries-general agreed on the expansion of relations based on the Memorandum of Mutual Understanding between the ASEAN and the SCO secretariats. At present, the two organizations are preparing road maps to go further.
ASEAN states and Russia are getting close to a cyber-security agreement. Singapore suffered its worst cyber attack in July when hackers stole the personal information of about 1.5 million people. Malaysia had fended off an attempted cyber heist on its central bank.
In 2018, defense cooperation between Russia and ASEAN was literally thriving. In March, Russia and Laos signed an agreement to establish a facility in Vientiane to promote military cooperation. In July, Russian Helicopters completed the first service contract for the Ministry of Defense of Laos and turned over four Mi-17 helicopters. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu visited Laos in January.
A Russia-Vietnam military cooperation agreement from 2018 until 2020 was concluded in April. The parties will hold joint exercises among other things. Vietnam also operates a Russian K‑300P Bastion‑P coastal defense system.
The Philippines has just confirmed its intent to buy Russian weapons despite the US threats to impose sanctions.
Las year, Manila inked a $7.48 million purchase of 750 RPG-7B rocket-propelled grenade launchers from Russia's state-owned Rosoboronexport. The transfer has not been completed as yet. Russia has donated assault rifles and trucks to that country. The grenade launchers deal is the first purchase. In 2016, Russia also donated arms to Fiji. Russia held a joint exercise with Indonesia last December.
Last October, Russia participated in the 4th ASEAN defense ministers’ meeting in the capacity of the organization’s dialogue partner.
Russia is a Pacific nation. It’s only natural for it to move eastwards, diversifying the relations. The upcoming visit of President Putin to Singapore in November demonstrates Moscow’s desire to move to the East. It has no doubt that the relationship with ASEAN states offers a promising future.