Analysts said that if Russia is excluded from the ASEAN forum, it will be a missed opportunity to advance peaceful dialogue regarding the Russia-Ukraine conflict as Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov plans to attend the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting, which Cambodia will host later this month in Phnom Penh.
Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, told The Post that Cambodia has not made any changes to its relationship with Russia and has maintained their bilateral ties despite Cambodia's recent vote in support of the UN resolution denouncing the country's military offensive in Ukraine and demanding a complete withdrawal of its forces, because Cambodia's position is that it supports the peaceful use of diplomacy to resolve conflicts.
He added that Cambodia values the principle of multilateralism in resolving issues and the exclusion of any stakeholder from diplomatic forums will not lead to a successful international settlement.
"If Russia is totally excluded from the forum or other ASEAN mechanisms, that is a missed opportunity for peaceful dialogue," Phea said.
He added that Cambodia, as well as ASEAN as a whole, is committed to the position that it wants to see an end to the war between Russia and Ukraine as soon as possible and has encouraged Russia and Ukraine to come to the negotiating table and end the bloodshed through diplomacy.
"War cannot be used to end wars. The best way is to negotiate peacefully, based on the principles of international law, the UN Charter and other international instruments to resolve their issues and to avoid a situation where might always makes right by returning to negotiations.
"Outsiders like NATO – and especially the US and Britain – should strive for peace talks rather than pouring petrol onto an already-blazing fire," Phea said.
Asked how Lavrov would react if there were calls from ASEAN members to end the war in Ukraine, Phea said the foreign minister would probably try to raise Russia's justifications for its military operation in Ukraine and would try to put the burden on Ukraine, which he said is pushing for the war to expand further by trying to escalate it into a war between Russia and NATO.
"Russia will continue to claim, as far as I can see, that its military operations are justified to protect Russians or Russian-speaking people and that it is only reacting to and eliminating a new 'Nazi regime' in Ukraine," Phea said.
Chum Sounry, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, confirmed to The Post on July 19 that his ASEAN colleagues had informed him that the Russian embassy in Phnom Penh had confirmed that Russia's foreign minister would attend the meetings.
"Russia is one of ASEAN's dialogue partners and included on the agenda is the ASEAN-Russia summit. Cambodia is the mediator between ASEAN and Russia and the Russian foreign minister will be attending the meeting and will co-chair the ASEAN-Russia meeting," foreign minister Prak Sokhonn was quoted as saying by the Agence Kampuchea Presse (AKP) on July 19.
Yong Kim Eng, director of the People's Centre for Development and Peace, told The Post on July 21 that ASEAN's member states may have differing views on Lavrov's presence – and may criticise his presence – because attendance by Russian officials at any event now happens under the watchful eyes of the world and will be inherently controversial to some parties.
"Cambodia should also be wary of the presence of the Russian foreign minister in the country. We know that Russia has wreaked havoc on Ukraine and on the lives of many civilians. Therefore, we should not give any honours to Russia, but I think instead we should apply any pressure we can on Russia to end the war in Ukraine as soon as possible," he said.
Kim Eng said that Russia "must respect Ukraine's sovereignty and take responsibility for what it has done in Ukraine" and that Cambodia must also find a way to handle this situation that avoids making the international community unhappy with the Kingdom over the presence of the Russian foreign minister.