Last week, the first ever informal meeting between the Russian defence minister and his colleagues from the ten ASEAN nations took place in Moscow. Viktor Sumsky, Director of the ASEAN Center at MGIMO University told valdaiclub.com in an interview why this meeting was special for both sides.
Although last week’s meeting was the first one in this format, defence officials from Russia and ASEAN countries have maintained contacts via the ADMM-Plus platform, bringing together defence ministers of ASEAN member-states and dialogue partners, Sumsky said.
According to him, the ADMM-Plus format appears to be more productive and interesting than such East Asia platforms for dialogue as ASEAN Regional Forum and East Asia Summit, which have not yet justified initial expectations.
ADMM plus meetings are attended by all ASEAN dialogue partners, including the United States and its allies. Last week’s meeting is unique in that it was focused of ASEAN-Russia relations.
“It is symbolic that while America’s principal allies have ostentatiously shrugged off the 5th Moscow Conference on International Security [held on April 27-28], all of the ASEAN member-states were represented here at the level of either defence ministers or their deputies,” Sumsky said.
“Washington has been trying to coerce ASEAN countries into what it would like to see as isolation of Russia in the international arena. But in this case, no signs of such isolation can be seen,” the scholar said.
Sumsky said military chiefs of the ASEAN states were deeply impressed by the success of Russia’s anti-terrorist operation in Syria, achieved thanks to the Russian Armed Forces’ high degree of alert and state-of-the-art equipment.
“Some of the ASEAN countries are official military-political allies of the United States, but this does not prevent them from maintaining pragmatic dialogue with the Russian military and participating in joint events. This enables both parties to build trust and learn to understand each other,” Sumsky pointed out.
“It is important that this informal meeting took place ahead of the summit in Sochi, thus confirming that Russia and ASEAN are mutually interested in taking cooperation in this sphere to a higher level,” he added.
The third ASEAN – Russia summit is to be held in Sochi on May 19-20, 2016. It will be dedicated to the 20th anniversary of dialogue partnership between Russia and the Association.
Sumsky believes that Russia is able to harmonize military and political dialogue with ASEAN states and its relations with Beijing, whose stance on the South China Sea territorial disputes is a major source of concern for the region. “From time to time some ASEAN member-states indicate that they would like Russia to play a more active role when it comes to creating conditions for solving territorial disputes between them and China. At the same time, they realize that Russia’s neutrality on these issues has a solid foundation. The zeal of Washington, when it urges to settle territorial disputes on the basis of international law, is such that the whole issue is periodically taken to the edge of the use of force. If Russia risked to side with one or another country in these disputes or began to act like the United States does, the situation would only get more complicated.”
“Our partners in ASEAN understand that good relations between China and Russia can guarantee the security in the region. If Russian-Chinese relations begin to show signs of strain, the aftermath for Asia-Pacific and the world as a whole would be very serious,” the scholar concluded.