Cambodia is a country-coordinator for the ASEAN-Russia relations (2021-2024). Last year, it worked to the best of its ability, in the capacity of the ASEAN chair, to narrow down divergent views on Russia concerning the war in Ukraine and its implication in the region and the world, and to manage its chairmanship successfully with high commandments from all ASEAN partners and ASEAN member states.

Cambodia, as always, works and will continue to work more closely with Russia and other ASEAN member states to fulfil her coordinatorship to further accelerate the momentum forwards to bring ASEAN-Russia strategic partnership to new heights.

The 19th ASEAN-Russia Senior Officials’ Meeting will be held on April 27-28 this year in Siem Reap. The meeting will review the ASEAN-Russia cooperation, including the implementation of the comprehensive plan of action 2021-2025 and future direction of ASEAN-Russia cooperation. The two sides will also exchange views on regional and international issues, and discuss preparation for the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference (PMC) with Russia scheduled to be held tentatively in July this year.

As a standing practice, the indicative list of topics for discussion focuses on review of ASEAN-Russia cooperation and its future direction, and exchange views on regional and international issues of common concern and interest. Cambodia will co-chair the PMC with Russia, in its capacity as the country-coordinator.

This year marks a significant milestone in ASEAN-Russia relations as the two sides commemorate the 5th anniversary of their strategic partnership. Various activities of their particular interests are expected to be organised to celebrate this strategic partnership.

The ASEAN-Russia dialogue partnership traces back to 1991 when Russia attended the opening session of the 24th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as a guest of the ASEAN chair. Russia was elevated to a full ASEAN dialogue partner at the 29th AMM in 1996 in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, and this dialogue partnership reached the highest level. This milestone was signified by the 1stASEAN-Russia Summit in 2005 in Kuala Lumpur, where both sides signed the Joint Declaration on Progressive and Comprehensive Partnership and adopted the comprehensive programme of action 2005-2015 to realise the goals and objectives set out in the Joint Declaration to promote ASEAN-Russia dialogue partnership in a wide range of areas covering political and security, economic and development cooperation.

This was followed by successive summits, including the 2nd summit in 2010 in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, and the commemorative summit to mark the 20th anniversary of the dialogue relations in 2016 in the Russian city of Sochi under the theme: “Moving Towards a Strategic Partnership for Mutual Benefit,” where the ASEAN-Russia leaders adopted the Sochi Declaration to chart out future direction of cooperation and to work closely together in the evolving regional architecture under the comprehensive plan of action 2016-2020.

The most critical historical milestone in the ASEAN-Russia dialogue relations was the successful convening of the 3rd ASEAN-Russia Summit in 2018 in Singapore, where the ties were elevated to a strategic partnership, bringing ASEAN-Russia relations to a new era of cooperation. The most recent key milestone worth mentioning is the 2021 successful convening of the 4th ASEAN-Russia summit to commemorate the 30th anniversary of their relations to further bolster the strategic partnership.

The Joint Statement on Building a Peaceful, Stable and Sustainable Region, and the comprehensive plan of action (CPA) 2021-2025 to implement ASEAN-Russia strategic partnership, among others, were adopted to accelerate the good momentum. There is remarkable progress in the implementation of the CPA, including joint projects funded by the ASEAN-Russia dialogue partnership financial fund (ARDPFF) established since 2007. In keeping pace with the growing ASEAN-Russia cooperation, Russia has increased annual contribution from $500,000 up to $ 1.5 million to the ARDPFF.

ASEAN and Russia maintain good political and security cooperation. Russia acceded to the TAC in 2004. This accession reflects Russia’s strong commitment to promoting regional peace, stability and a significant contribution to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) as an important code of conduct governing inter-states relations. ASEAN and Russia continue to deepen political and security cooperation through the latter’s active participation in East Asian Summit (EAS), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus), ASEAN PMC Plus One with Russia, and ASEAN Senior Officials’ Meeting on Transnational Crime with Russia (SOMTC+ Russia), among others.

The ASEAN-Russia strategic partnership has been tightened through regular dialogue and engagement such as Senior Economic Officials’ Meeting (SEOM), ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM)-Russia Consultations. The relationship between Russian Business Community and Russia-ASEAN Business Council (RABC) has also been enhanced to promote trade, economic and investment cooperation in the two regions. This enhanced cooperation helps spur more success and give fresh impetus for regional economic growth, provided that the RABC has more than 50 Russian major companies in energy, infrastructure, manufacturing, finance and investment, information and technology, media and telecommunications sector, and it is listed as one of the members of the Joint Business Council, a mechanism led by the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC).

ASEAN and Russia have explored further possibilities to promote cooperation in energy, food, transport, tourism, science and technology as these could be promising areas for socio-economic development and sustainable growth. The ASEAN-Russia energy cooperation work plan to deepen cooperation on energy, with a focus on oil and gas, the electric power sector, civilian nuclear energy, and promotion of renewable energy is also commended, considering energy security issue.

Given the important role of transport in socio-economic and sustainable development, both sides stress the importance of the full and effective implementation of the 2016 Moscow Joint Declaration of the ASEAN-Russia Transport Ministers’ Meeting – “Moving towards a Mutually Beneficial Transport Cooperation” – to illustrate joint effort for a cohesive and effective transport cooperation such as through improving coordination, promoting the use of Intelligent Transport Systems and Global Navigation Satellite Systems, exchange of information and best practices, training and active involvement of other concerned stakeholders.

Regular consultations to increase the momentum for tourism cooperation for economic recovery are also under way. A number of projects on tourism promotion have been successfully implemented, namely training courses on Russian language for ASEAN tour operators and a project to develop an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) platform to provide travellers safety, among others.

Food security is of paramount importance for the peoples of the two regions. ASEAN and Russia are strongly committed to the full and effective implementation of the ASEAN-Russia agriculture and food security cooperation work programme to elevate poverty reduction and to ensure that no one is left behind in the region.

The ASEAN-Russia Senior Officials’ Meeting on Agriculture (ARSOMA) and the ASEAN Maritime Forum (AMF) play a more critical role in this cooperation. 2022 was designated as the ASEAN-Russia Year of Science, Technology and Industrial Cooperation to strengthen collaboration in advance technologies with several successful activities. To accelerate the momentum, a particular focus is also placed on the full and effective implementation of the ASEAN-Russia Plan of Action on Science, Technology and Innovation (ARPASTI) 2016-2025 to enhance mobility of scientists and researchers, strengthen and develop join research and development (R&D) activities, increase translation of R&D to practice, and strengthen regional science, technology and innovation linkages.

The significant progress in ASEAN-Russia cooperation in health sector ranging from training activities in Russia to bolster public health capacity and the promotion of disease control and prevention under the EAS mechanism, as well as the co-sponsoring of the EAS Leaders’ Statement on Strengthening Collective Capacity in Epidemics Prevention and Response by Russia, which was adopted by the 15th EAS Summit in November 2020, and the two successive special ASEAN-Russia foreign ministers’ meetings on Covid-19 in 2020 and 2021 amid the Covid-19 pandemic should be commended as the highlight of the importance of the ASEAN-Russia strategic partnership under ASEAN-led mechanisms in addressing the pandemic and its impact, and the commitment for stronger cooperation in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic and future public health emergencies. This positive momentum continues to increase.

Efforts have also been made to deepen and diversify ASEAN-Russia cooperation in the field of science and education as well as creating preconditions for strengthening productive relations between the universities and university-based research institutions of ASEAN and Russia. The 2019 ASEAN-Russia Forum on Education – held at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, also known as MGIMO University, in the Russian capital and attended by senior officials and representatives from the ASEAN Senior Officials on Education (SOM-ED) and entities associated with ASEAN – is an exemplification.

To further promote people-to-people contact, facilitate studies and provide information on ASEAN and Russia, as well as promoting trade, tourism and awareness, the ASEAN Centre in Moscow, located at the MGIMO, was established and officially launched in June 2010. The ASEAN Centre at the MGIMO has also undertaken promotional activities in developing people-to-people ties, academic, youth and cultural exchanges.

Successive ASEAN-Russia Youth Summits have also been held in Moscow and Siem Reap, respectively. The ASEAN-Russia Youth Summit is a permanent platform of education, cultural and sports exchange between the youth of ASEAN and Russia.

There is also significant progress in the implementation of the agreement on cultural cooperation signed in 2010. ASEAN and Russia also signed memoranda of understanding (MoU) on Cooperation in the Field of Disaster Management in 2021 to enhance cooperation in such areas as disaster risk assessment, emergency response and capacity building.

It should be reminisced that following the entry into force of the ASEAN Charter and based on the longstanding ASEAN-Russia Dialogue Relations, Russia accredited its ambassador to ASEAN in 2009. Russia also established its diplomatic mission to ASEAN based in Jakarta, which was officially inaugurated on August 9, 2017 by Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. Ever since, the ASEAN-Russia partnership has been stronger. Long live ASEAN-Russia enduring partnership!

Chun Sovannarith is former minister counsellor of the Cambodian embassy to Belgium and the mission to the EU.

The views expressed in this article are solely his own.