EU ambassador to Cambodia Igor Driesmans said Ukraine has emerged as the world’s most landmine-contaminated nation, and will require decades of demining action, much as Cambodia is still experiencing.

He made the statement during a roundtable discussion on “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine as a fundamental threat to the post-World War II rules-based order”, organised by the Cambodian Centre for Regional Studies (CCRS) on February 22 in Phnom Penh.

“Ukraine has become the most landmine-contaminated country in the world, which will require decades of clearance. I think it’s something many Cambodians will be able to relate to, as you still are clearing up the landmines of the three decades of war that your country has gone through,” he said.

He also stressed that in 2022, 141 members of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), an “overwhelming majority”, supported a resolution condemning Russia for its “brutal aggression”.

“Also, I might add Cambodia understood. When deciding to vote against Russia at the UN, then-Prime Minister Hun Sen said the Kingdom values the UN Charter, as well as basic principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. These principles are especially important for small countries with large and more powerful neighbours, like Cambodia. He put it a bit more bluntly, by saying who will help us in case we are attacked in the future if Cambodia does not oppose the Russian attack this time around,” he said.

Beyond international law and UN frameworks, Driesmans noted that many Cambodians will understand the plight of war and “aggression” and can perhaps relate to the Ukrainian people more than most, or perhaps “any of us”.

“This is why we’re grateful to the government of Cambodia for her principles and courageous stand. Thank you for being on the right side of history on this one,” he added.

CCRS senior adviser Pou Sothirak said at the event that in Southeast Asia, there are ongoing concerns that the war in Ukraine will have ramifications that could affect ASEAN relevance, adding that the bloc’s members worry as the price of essential commodities has skyrocketed, putting a severe strain on their economies.

“The sharp increase of the cost of transport, electricity and fuel has been felt throughout Southeast Asian countries in recent days, affecting our post Covid-19 recovery. Without an alternate source for energy security to compensate for cheaper oil prices from Russia, the risk of political and economic instability will be at stake,” he added.

Of the 193 UN member states, 181 voted, with Cambodia among 141 countries that voted in favour of the UNGA resolution in March 2022.

Hun Sen explained at the time that Cambodia could not ignore Russia’s large-scale military offensive in Ukraine. He called for a ceasefire and urged them to come to the negotiating table to bring an end to the war.

Russian ambassador to Cambodia Anatoly Borovik told a December 26, 2023 press conference in Phnom Penh that Cambodia is an independent and democratic country which can conduct its foreign policy as it sees fit, adding that Russia has never interfered in the internal affairs of any sovereign state.

However, he acknowledged that Russia had sought to clarify the “attempts by Western countries behind the coup that took place in Ukraine in 2014” to Cambodia.