Moscow Deepens Ties With ASEAN Despite Amicable Relations With Myanmar and US Pressure
Monday, August 8, 2022
Ahmed Adel, Cairo-based geopolitics and political economy researcher
Russia and Myanmar reaffirmed their commitment to advance their strategic partnership and outlined a roadmap for cooperation, something of particularly importance since it allows the Southeast Asian country to overcome the consequences of sanctions and isolation. More importantly though, despite the growing cooperation between Russia and Myanmar, ASEAN has not reacted in anger or frustration against Moscow, but rather it too continues to deepen its relations with Russia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov landed in Myanmar on August 3, just a day before arriving in the Cambodian capital for the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit. His talks with the Myanmar military junta leader, General Min Aung Hlaing, and Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, comes as Myanmar is dealing with isolation and economic sanctions imposed by the US, EU and Japan.
The visit of Lavrov to Myanmar has created a strong impetus for the development of a new stage in relations between the two countries, and as Russian Ambassador to Naypyidaw Nikolay Listopadov said, this is an important outcome of the Russian minister’s visit. The diplomat specifically noted that Myanmar is interested in importing liquefied natural gas (LNG), gasoline and fuel from Russia.
As a result of the talks, the two sides announced the establishment of a bilateral energy working group and aspects of cooperation will be discussed at the third session of the Intergovernmental Committee on Economic and Trade Cooperation, which will be held later this month in the capital of Myanmar. At the end of August, Russia will also hold a meeting of the Bilateral Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation.
“Relations are developing quite deeply, we are always communicating, these are conversations between good friends, strategic partners,” Lavrov said at a meeting with Min Aung Hlaing.
The West has called Myanmar a “rogue state” and imposed secondary sanctions on any companies attempting to do business with the country. In that context, Lavrov’s visit had a strong resonance as Myanmar, like Russia, is suffering from sanctions and Western practices that are not supported by any international laws.
In this context, it is important for Moscow to develop special relationships with countries that see the international system moving away from the US-dominated order. Beijing also maintains close relations with the Myanmar government and has helped shape the common Russian and Chinese views and approaches to the situation in Southeast Asia.
Southeast Asian countries have absolutely no intentions, despite pressure, including from Washington, to participate in sanctions against Russia, with Singapore being the only exception. In this way, Lavrov’s visit not only helped in maintaining the friendly relations that Moscow has with the region, but to develop even deeper ties with states that refuse to join the sanctions and are willing to trade.
When Lavrov’s visit to Myanmar ended, he immediately went to Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh and participated in the meeting of the Russian-ASEAN foreign ministers. He also held several bilateral meetings.
During the summit, ASEAN said it was “deeply disappointed” by the slow progress made by the Myanmar junta military rulers in implementing a peace agreement to end the internal conflict. The statement came as the ASEAN Summit also included counterparts from outside the region, namely the US, China, Russia, Japan, Britain and Australia. Although the meeting had been overshadowed by tensions surrounding Taiwan following Nancy Pelosi’s trip to the self-ruled island, there was still focus on Myanmar.
An ASEAN communique on August 4 mentioned the crisis in Myanmar and recommended that at the bloc’s next summit in November, the progress by the junta in implementing a peace plan should be assessed as it will help “guide the decision on the next steps.” Although Myanmar is an ASEAN member, its ruling generals are barred from attending the blocs meetings until progress in the peace plan are made. The five-point peace “consensus” calls for an end to violence and asks for all parties to engage in dialogue and for ASEAN to provide humanitarian assistance, but there has been little sign of the violence in Myanmar ending.
Moscow has amicable relations with all of ASEAN’s members, besides Singapore as it decided to follow the West in imposing sanctions in response to the special military operation in Ukraine. Russia has been able to maintain its balance of having strong relations with ASEAN, whilst also elevating its bilateral relations with Myanmar.
It is recalled that in July, Lavrov expressed support for ASEAN’s effort to end the political crisis in Myanmar. Speaking during a visit to the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, Lavrov said the Five Point Consensus agreed by ASEAN should be the basis by which the situation in Myanmar can be resolved, stressing: “In our contacts with Myanmar leaders, military leaders, we promote the position of ASEAN which should be in our view, considered as a basis for resolving this crisis and bringing the situation back to normalcy.”
As Russia has maintained this balance and respected the region’s right to resolve its own issues whilst only offering support if it is requested, ASEAN in turn, with the exception of Singapore, has maintained close relations with Moscow despite its expanding cooperation with Myanmar and pressure from the West to impose sanctions.
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