Russian President Vladimir Putin has oozed an informal resentment when describing the “irreversible and even tectonic adjustments” that he says have led the West to develop into a spent pressure on the planet.
“Western international locations are striving to keep up a former world order that’s useful solely to them,” he advised attendees on the Jap Financial Discussion board within the Russian metropolis of Vladivostok in September.
These days have been numbered, he insisted.
The long run was within the “dynamic, promising international locations and areas of the world, primarily the Asia Pacific area”, he mentioned. Putin was adopted on the rostrum by Myanmar coup chief Min Aung Hlaing – the symbolism was not misplaced on shut observers of regional politics.
This week Putin was invited to attend the Group of 20 assembly, which opens on Tuesday on the Indonesian island of Bali. It seemed to be the proper venue for him to double down on his overtures to the Asia Pacific, significantly in Southeast Asia — one of many world’s most economically dynamic areas.
However it was to not be.
Putin skipped his second within the Balinese solar resulting from undefined “scheduling” causes.
With Putin a no-show, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had a captive viewers when he addressed the summit just about on Tuesday after his invitation to attend by the summit’s host, Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
Putin’s absence from the G20 additionally undercuts “discuss of a Russian pivot to Asia”, wrote Susannah Patton of the Lowy Institute, an Australian suppose tank.
Now with the Russian military retreating in elements of Ukraine and worldwide sanctions biting deeply into Russia’s financial system, some outdated mates in Southeast Asia seem like avoiding direct eye contact as Putin seems to be east. Others are actively wanting the opposite approach, and Myanmar appears to be Moscow’s final true good friend within the area.
Previous comrades, quick recollections
Russia has no main strategic pursuits in Southeast Asia, however Soviet-era relations run deep and Moscow has lengthy political and emotional connections to the previous nations of Indochina: Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
Hanoi, specifically, remembers Russian help in the course of the struggle in opposition to the US-backed regime in South Vietnam within the Nineteen Sixties and Nineteen Seventies — a struggle from which it emerged victorious in 1975.
Vietnam and Laos abstained from UN resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the annexation of Ukrainian territory, and voted in opposition to suspending Russia from the UN Human Rights Council.
In Monday’s vote on a decision requiring Russia to pay reparations for the harm brought about to Ukraine, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia have been among the many 73 members of the meeting that abstained. Amongst international locations within the area, solely Singapore and the Philippines backed the decision.
Vietnam’s determination to abstain on the UN is completely authorized, argued Huynh Tam Sang, a lecturer at Ho Chi Minh Metropolis College of Social Sciences and Humanities. However it’s also “morally questionable” as Vietnam had did not defend the “rules of sovereignty and territorial integrity”, he writes. That’s no small oversight for a rustic whose profitable liberation struggles in opposition to overseas occupiers — China, France, and the USA — is a defining nationwide motif.
“Vietnam’s transfer is geared toward avoiding criticism and potential retaliation from Moscow,” mentioned Huynh Tam Sang, mentioning the fabric behind the fraternal: commerce hyperlinks between Hanoi and Moscow amounted to nearly $2.5bn within the first eight months of this yr, and Russia is a major investor in Vietnam’s oil and fuel sectors.
Russia can also be Vietnam’s largest arms provider.
“It isn’t in Vietnam’s pursuits for Russia to be weakened,” Carlyle A Thayer, emeritus professor on the College of New South Wales Canberra, advised Al Jazeera in a latest interview.
Vietnam’s help for Russia must be understood by way of Hanoi’s historically fraught relationship with neighbouring China. Vietnam fought its personal border struggle with China in 1979 and has usually relied on its relations with Moscow as a counterweight to strain from its historic rival.
Neighbouring Cambodia, nevertheless, with its Putin-esque authoritarian chief Hun Sen who has held energy for 37 years, has proven shocking insubordination to its former Soviet-era help donor and political supporter.
The then Soviet Union was one of many earliest international locations to assist rebuild Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge regime when the federal government in Phnom Penh — put in by Vietnam — confronted near-total Western sanctions. One in every of Phnom Penh’s hottest markets continues to be often called the “Russian Market” owing to the big inhabitants of Russian diplomats and technical assistants from Soviet states who frequented its stalls in the course of the Nineteen Eighties.
Simply final yr, Hun Sen obtained Russia’s Order of Friendship medal.
However that has not prevented the Cambodian chief from taking a “surprisingly hard-line stand” in opposition to Moscow over the struggle in Ukraine, in line with Ian Storey, a senior fellow on the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.
Hun Sen has not simply referred to as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine an “act of aggression”, however he has additionally questioned Russia’s potential to emerge victorious, and expressed a willingness to absorb Ukrainian refugees, Storey notes.
Hun Sen’s pro-Ukraine stance appeared to immediate the Russian ambassador to remind him in a tweet that it was Moscow who got here to Cambodia’s help “in probably the most troublesome interval in its historical past” following the Khmer Rouge.
📌 Mentioned each historical past and prospects of 🇷🇺🇰🇭 relations on the on-line convention throughout the undertaking “#Russia within the South Seas”. Our two nations have all the time maintained pleasant relations. It was Moscow that assisted Phnom Penh in probably the most troublesome interval in its historical past. pic.twitter.com/GMpm9HUOBD
— Anatoly Borovik (@RusAmbCambodia) March 23, 2022
Cambodia was unmoved by the Russian reminder.
Phnom Penh has been a cosponsor of condemnatory UN resolutions on Russia’s invasion — though it has abstained on some Ukraine-related votes — and extra not too long ago, Hun Sen invited Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to deal with by video hyperlink final weekend’s summit of the Affiliation of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Phnom Penh. The invitation was apparently torpedoed by the necessity for consensus among the many ASEAN leaders.
Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have been extra cautious of their public pronouncements on the struggle, with G20 host Indonesia cautious to protect its conventional non-aligned stance.
However, Indonesia’s Widodo did go to Kyiv first and Moscow the subsequent day in late June when he went to debate the worldwide meals disaster with Zelenskyy and Putin, and presumably prolong private invites to the Bali summit.
Russian marketplace for arms
Russia’s arms business is the “single largest provider of main weaponry to Southeast Asia”, in line with the Stockholm Worldwide Peace Analysis Institute (SIPRI).
Russia accounted for greater than 1 / 4 of all main weapons deliveries to the area over the previous 20 years, in line with SIPRI, and when Moscow can’t promote its weapons for laborious money, it has been keen to do barter offers or present loans as an alternative.
The Indonesian authorities deliberate to purchase 11 Russian-made Sukhoi Su-35 fighter plane from Russia in a deal that concerned fee of half the price with the equal in agricultural and different produce, in line with stories.
Within the Philippines, Russia mentioned in 2018 that it was “greater than keen” to supply a tender mortgage in order that Manila may purchase its first-ever — however Russian-built — submarine, the nation’s Philippine Information Company reported.
As SIPRI factors out, gross sales of Russian weaponry to Southeast Asia are “an necessary aspect of Russia’s whole export revenue and important to sustaining the financial viability of the Russian arms business”.
However with US sanctions imposed on Russia following its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and alleged interference within the 2016 US presidential election, some regional governments have already begun to maneuver away from Russia.
Manila didn’t purchase the Russian submarine, and Jakarta introduced in December that the Sukhoi fighter deal was useless.
Now, with a plethora of Ukraine war-related sanctions awaiting these coping with Moscow, Russia’s export arms business seems to be set to really feel the collateral harm of Putin’s Ukraine invasion.
Take the Philippines, for instance.
Over fears of sanctions, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr mentioned final month that his nation would supply navy helicopters from the US after scrapping a $215m deal to purchase 16 heavy-lift helicopters from Russia.
The federal government of Marcos Jr’s predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, had signed the take care of Russia in November 2021. However even Duterte needed to place distance between himself and Putin, whom he had as soon as described as his idol, after the Ukraine invasion.
“Many say that Putin and I are each killers,” Duterte mentioned three months into the invasion in Could.
“I’ve lengthy advised you Filipinos that I actually kill. However I kill criminals, I don’t kill youngsters and the aged,” he mentioned, evaluating his brutality to that of Putin in Ukraine.
“We’re in two completely different worlds,” he added.
’Twenty first-century imperialism’
The Southeast Asia outlier is military-ruled Myanmar, which has thrown its full help behind Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Already heat relations between Russia and Myanmar have deepened additional because the invasion of Ukraine and final yr’s coup by the navy that toppled the elected authorities of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Because the Worldwide Disaster Group notes, the Myanmar navy has positioned itself as “Russia’s most uncritical post-invasion associate in Asia”, and Russia has backed the navy regime by way of offering worldwide diplomatic cowl and superior weaponry.
Ian Storey of the ISEAS sees three components at work: “Diplomatic validation, arms gross sales and vitality cooperation.”
Moscow moved shortly to recognise the Myanmar generals after they seized energy, and the generals have reciprocated by endorsing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Navy chief Min Aung Hlaing has declared Russia to be Myanmar’s “endlessly good friend”, as compared with China being described merely as a “shut good friend”, as Storey notes.
Just like Vietnam, Myanmar’s navy additionally wants Russia as an alternate provider of weapons and a counterweight to China. Myanmar introduced in September it will purchase Russian oil and pay in roubles.
However the Russia-Myanmar relationship is greater than an odious alliance, it’s also a timebomb for ASEAN.
Storey notes that Moscow’s arms shipments are driving the Myanmar regime’s potential to wage a sustained struggle in opposition to its inhabitants and armed ethnic teams, which undermines the potential for peace talks and a negotiated settlement, which ASEAN needs to see achieved.
Gregory Poling, director of the Southeast Asia Program on the Centre for Strategic and Worldwide Research (CSIS) in Washington, DC, mentioned Southeast Asia’s relationship with Russia is advanced.
Russia does, historically, maintain attraction for these with anti-Western sentiment within the area, and Putin’s hyper-masculine picture chimes in a area with a historical past of personalist, strongman politics.
Nevertheless, Southeast Asia’s expertise with Western colonialism, and the dedication by nations within the area to the preservation of their sovereignty, permits international locations to recognise neo-imperialism when it seems within the invasion of Ukraine, Poling advised Al Jazeera.
Nations within the area “look and see a resurgent Russian empire, and that that is imperialism within the Twenty first Century,” Poling mentioned.
That sentiment was articulated in a speech by Singapore’s overseas minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, condemning Russia’s invasion and saying sanctions on Moscow in February, Poling mentioned.
“Ukraine is far smaller than Russia, however it’s a lot larger than Singapore,” Bakakrishnan mentioned on the time.
“A world order primarily based on ‘may is true’, or the place ‘the sturdy do what they will and the weak endure what they need to’, such a world order could be profoundly inimical to the safety and survival of small states,” he mentioned.