Russia Reaches Out To Southeast Asia

16 June 2015

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Russia is holding its largest military fair in a park near Moscow this week. Cambodia’s Defence Minister Tea Banh is attending the event.  
Deepening ties with Asia gives Russia a leg up in its uphill struggle against mounting economic and diplomatic pressures from the US and EU for its aggression in Ukraine.
Russia regards East Asia as a key strategic and economic space. It has embarked on a more proactive diplomatic offensive under its Eastward, or pivot to Asia, strategy. Trade, investment, energy, and defense cooperation are core areas of the strategy. 
More importantly, Southeast Asia is an emerging market for Russia’s arms sales. 
“Russia has quite a large experience in military and technical cooperation with certain Southeast Asian states, such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia,” Russian Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov stated at the recent Shangri-La Dialogue. “This cooperation has good prospects, considering that Russian armaments are both well-known in the region and constitute the basis for the pool of military hardware in some states like Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.” 
Russia is the main supplier of military hardware to Vietnam and Indonesia. Thailand is the latest country in Southeast Asia to show interest in purchasing Russian weapons, as Bangkok’s relations worsens with the US, its traditional supplier. 
Russia exported armaments and military hardware worth more than $15 billion in 2014. This year, Russia has already signed new contracts worth about $14 billion.
Team up with China 
The ongoing diplomatic tensions between China and the US, particularly with regards to the disputes in the South China Sea, provides an opportunity for Russia to build closer ties with China.
Russia views China as the most important strategic and economic partner in Asia,  although they do not really share the same dream. The Russia-China axis, at least for now, significantly challenges US interests and influences Asian geopolitics.   
Cambodia Welcomes Russian Role
Cambodia’s foreign policy centers on self-reliance, international cooperation, and diversification of strategic partners. Cambodia welcomes Russia’s renewed engagement and active role in East Asia. For instance, Cambodia played a significant role in bringing Russia to the East Asia Summit in 2011, the region’s most important security summit is attended by the heads of government or state from 18 Asia Pacific countries.  
“In terms of politics, Russia and Cambodia, as before, share the same vision of major global and regional issues,” Russia’s ambassador to Cambodia, Dmitry Tsvetkov, wrote last year. “We carry on an open, sincere and constructive dialogue on the whole range of the agenda of international relations.”
Russia Needs To Overcome Shortcomings 
Russia’s Eastward policy lacks clear vision and resources, leading to slow implementation of the policy and action plans. From Asean’s point of view, Russia needs to implement the Eastward policy.
The multilateral institutional architecture of Asia is in the making, and Russia wants to be an influential voice in its development. However, Russia has yet to show its leadership to become a multilateral player.  
Russia needs to initiate more ideas to strengthen regional security architecture. Vladimir Putin’s failure to attend the East Asia Summit last November in Myanmar reflected a lack of serious commitment and dedication. This November, Putin should try to attend the East Asia Summit in Malaysia as part of Russian aspirations to play a greater role in East Asia.

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