Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will be signing half a dozen agreements with the Kingdom when he arrives on Sunday, among them one pledging “cooperation” between the Cambodian People’s Party and Vladimir Putin’s dominant United Russia – a sign of increasing cosiness that both countries hope will pay political dividends, analysts say.
Valeria Gorokhova, a spokeswoman with United Russia, said the cooperation agreement is a “standard” deal that the party has made with political parties in 32 other countries, ranging from former Soviet satellite states to Asia-Pacific countries.
Cooperation will entail “exchanging ideas about party structure and mutual support in planning for the future”, she said, although she declined to describe the nature of such support.
Analyst Sebastian Strangio, author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia, yesterday said the pairing made perfect sense.
“United Russia and the CPP are peas in a pod,” said Strangio. “American policymakers usually balance [political] interest with [democratic] values, but Hun Sen doesn’t comprehend values. He doesn’t speak that language.”
Cambodia, meanwhile, has a long history of courting more powerful friends, and with Russia currently embroiled in a battle of wills with NATO following its annexation of Crimea, it is actively looking to expand its influence among ASEAN countries.
“Cambodia’s foreign political history is based around diversifying the number of friends it has,” said Strangio.
Cambodian scholar Sok Touch agreed that while Hun Sen hopes to maintain military and economic cooperation with the US, he also wants to establish deals with more realpolitik-oriented countries such as Russia and China, giving him more domestic wiggle room.
According to Touch, Russian-Cambodian relations, while barely existent since the 1980s, have grown much cosier since 2014.
Carlyle Thayer, a Southeast Asia expert and emeritus professor at the Australian Defence Force Academy, pointed to a Putin initiative to increase Russia’s influence in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as the country’s legacy of cooperating with Vietnam.
“Putin might be looking for other footholds beyond Vietnam,” said Thayer. “Cooperation between the ruling parties can create another conduit of influence.”
Chum Sounry, the spokesman for the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that Cambodia’s relationship with Russia is “close” and “friendly”, but said he could not comment in detail about the pending deals.
Thayer added that Russia is looking to import more agricultural products, including ones it has reduced access to, due to European sanctions.
Russian Information Minister Nikolay Nikiforov, who visited the Kingdom in July, said that Russia is especially interested in seafood, rice, cassava, corn and rubber.
Nikiforov and Russian Ambassador to Cambodia Dmitry Tsvetkov also said Russians are increasingly interested in vacationing in Cambodia and ways are being considered to create direct flights between the two countries.