February 7, 2023
JAKARTA – Completing my mission in Jakarta as the first Russian dedicated Ambassador to ASEAN (and I was the first one co-accredited to ASEAN in 2009-2012 while I was the Russian Ambassador to Indonesia), I am trying to weigh what has been done to deepen ASEAN-Russia partnership in the past nearly five and a half years and at the same time to visualize the future of this region in the context of ASEAN and Russian interests.
Indeed, for the last several years Russia became an indispensable actor in the Asia-Pacific. Our ASEAN friends understand and appreciate a constructive stabilizing role of Russia with no hidden agenda in the region. Our philosophies of international relations, based on the principle of sovereign equality of nations, are similar. We have never lectured our ASEAN partners or tried to impose on them our values while respecting each other’s culture, history, traditions and aspirations.
Our practical cooperation reached a status of strategic partnership in 2018, fixed during the summit of our leaders in Singapore. During these years, in addition to existing areas of cooperation, we have managed to launch and actively promote new ones, including consultations of the high representatives for security issues, dialogue on ICT security-related issues, meetings of tourism ministers and others. In the end of 2021 we successfully held the first ASEAN-Russia naval exercises in the Indonesian territorial waters. In 2022 we organized a number of events within the framework of the ASEAN-Russia Year of Scientific and Technical Cooperation. Dozens of joint projects were implemented and financed by Russia in various spheres ranging from agriculture to training of ASEAN health experts and specialists of law-enforcement agencies. We continued to develop practical cooperation between ASEAN and Eurasian Economic Union as well as with Shanghai Cooperation Organization, thus moving the processes of integration across the huge Eurasian continent. The potential benefits of this movement, initiated by Russian President Vladimir Putin, for all participants are difficult to overestimate.
We firmly believe that ASEAN-centered mechanisms of cooperation, created in the last 55 years and based on the principles of equality, mutual respect and constructive engagement, including the EAS, ARF and ADMM-Plus, played the pivotal role in stabilizing the region, balancing the interests of all big players and promoting mutual trust, which are prerequisites of the Asia-Pacific phenomenon in becoming the main engine of the global economic growth. For many decades there were no hot military conflicts in the region. Largely it is the merit of ASEAN wisdom and its leading role in shaping multilateral cooperation here. That is why Russia strongly supports ASEAN centrality in the region not only in words but in deeds.
Back in 2010, then Secretary-General of ASEAN Surin Pitsuwan said: “If ASEAN succeeds in its vision and mission, at least the world will have one less region to worry about. That is the contribution of ASEAN: the region can take care of itself.” Good words! But what worries me is that since recently not everybody believes in these words, thinking that without external “help” and “values” (or rather domination), the regional countries themselves cannot do it “properly”. What is the reason for this thinking? In my view, the deep motivation of these thinkers is only one: they cannot tolerate the swift movement of the world toward multipolarity, the rise of new centers of growth and independent policy inconsistent with the project of globalization headed by the United States. The concept of “American leadership” professed for the last several decades is no longer consistent with realities. Washington is desperately trying to eradicate this contradiction by using all its might, introducing so called “rules-based order” to substitute international law and ruling its satellites in Europe and the Asia-Pacific with an iron hand.
That is why, under the cover of “Free and Open Indo-Pacific [FOIP]” slogans, NATO pronounces its “global responsibility” with a special accent on the “Indo-Pacific” region (and past “achievements” of NATO in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and elsewhere are very well-known) and minilateral bloc-type mechanisms like AUKUS, as alternative to ASEAN, are being created.
If you attribute this analysis to my ill imagination read at least some ideas of Asian, American and European think tanks and experts: “Cooperation between South Korea, Japan and NATO sends a message of deterrence…Joint military exercises involving NATO and East Asian countries could be held in the Indo-Pacific or in Europe…NATO and the Far Eastern countries could establish an informal military alliance similar to the Quad” (Chonnam National University, ROK, 06.01.23); “The Indo-Pacific is associated with the logic of bloc diplomacy” (Sejong Institute, ROK, 30.12.22); “The US-Japan alliance is shifting to a war footing” (“War on the Rocks”, US, 12.01.23); “Neither the hub-and-spokes system nor ASEAN’s various security forums have created a permanently stable foundation for security in Asia. As an alternative, a web of partnerships involving a number of countries is emerging” (German Institute for International and Security Affairs, 31.12.22); “US is building a more lethal force posture in the Indo-Pacific as part of efforts to make sure China doesn’t dominate the region” (US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, The Japan Times, 21.12.22). Not enough? You can find much more of it, including in the official statements of Western countries.
One can see the same logic in the European current geopolitical tension around Ukraine. Serious experts in ASEAN countries, despite all Western anti-Russian hysteria and propaganda, understand that the Ukrainian neo-Nazi regime is only a tool in the hands of the West to resolve “the Russian issue” once and for all in order to “deal with China” later. Unfortunately, history does not teach those in Washington, Brussels and other Western capitals who encouraged Kiev not to implement Minsk Agreements (and the recent revelation of the former German Chancellor Angela Merkel shows it very clearly) and now demand from Kiev to fight on the battlefield to the last Ukrainian. Since the 13th century, they tried to resolve “the Russian issue” many times and each time with catastrophic results for themselves. Now masks of political correctness are thrown away and their racist essence is visible. For example, the chief European Union diplomat Joseph Borrel divided the world into the “blooming garden” where 1 billion citizens of the US and Europe are living and the jungle advancing on their garden.
There are more and more sober voices in the West but the establishment does not want to hear them. ASEAN has taken a balanced neutral approach to the issue of the Ukrainian crisis despite enormous pressure from the West, which shows once again the wisdom of our ASEAN partners.
There are many internal and external challenges for ASEAN in the turbulent situation of strategic ambiguity. I am sure that the current Indonesian chair will be able to navigate the “ASEAN ship” through the troubled waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans. It is vitally important not to let Asia (and ASEAN itself) be drawn into the deep Asia-Pacific waters. Let us not forget, that the majority of products in the region are produced in the continent. ASEAN needs innovative approaches to preserve and strengthen its unity and centrality in this situation. Russia will actively support ASEAN in these efforts, since we see this organization of 10 countries as our natural partner in the Asia Pacific with whom we share the same principles and objectives. I do not imply that our ASEAN friends should take sides. ASEAN is perfectly able to take its own side in its own way. The ASEAN way.
I am proud that more than two decades of my professional life have been dedicated to cooperation and friendship between Russia and ASEAN. Farewell Indonesia. Farewell ASEAN. For you I will always have a soft corner in my heart.
— The writer is the Russian ambassador to ASEAN.