Russia-Southeast Asia Relations: In China’s Shadow?

From May 19-20, the leaders of Southeast Asia nations will convene for the Russia-ASEAN summit at the Black Sea resort of Sochi to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the establishment of the ASEAN-Russia Dialogue Partnership.1 Moscow attaches great importance to this summit as a step forward to reassert Russia’s global standing damaged by the reverberations of the Ukraine crisis in 2014 and the extended western sanctions against Putin’s Russia over Ukraine.2 Both Russia and ASEAN have expressed an interest in enhancing bilateral relations.

In March 2013 during the Letter of Credence welcoming ceremony honoring Mikhail Galuzin, the newly appointed Russian ambassador to ASEAN, Secretary-General of ASEAN Le Luong Minh appreciated the role played by Russia “in maintaining peace and stability in the region.”3 In the midst of the 2014 Ukraine crisis, Alexei Likhachev, Russian deputy minister of economic development, stressed the importance of ASEAN markets for Russia due to their "complementarity" to the Russian economy.4 In April 2015, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Thailand and Vietnam as part of Russia’s wider Asian outreach, attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila and the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Kuala-Lumpur, and also paid a visit to Cambodia.5 In May 2015, the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) inked a free trade zone agreement with Vietnam as a sign of Russia’s desire to integrate with ASEAN economies. In his article published on the eve of the November 2015 APEC summit in Manila, President Vladimir Putin attached importance to the economic aspects of Russia-Southeast Asia cooperation.6 The establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) on December 31, 2015 created additional stimuli to strengthen economic cooperation. The coming summit is expected to form a mechanism of “networked integration” between the EEU, the AEC, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).7

The recent renaissance of Russian-ASEAN relations is seen as a sign of Russia’s “new eastern policy” aimed at its restoration as a global power and its full integration into the Asia-Pacific region. Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its chairmanship in the APEC forum in 2012 created new incentives to actively participate in regional economic cooperation projects and security dialogues, in multilateral and bilateral formats. Moscow recognized ASEAN’s unique role as a pivot of regional integration and as a key rule-maker in the complex security environment in the Asia Pacific. With its ambitious plans to modernize the vast Russian Far East and turn Russia into a ‘Euro-Pacific’ power, the Kremlin could hardly ignore ASEAN with its 620-million-strong population, its impressive USD 2.5 trillion foreign trade turnover, and a GDP of USD 2.6 trillion.8

The ASEAN-Russia Dialogue Partnership traces back to July 1991 when the deputy prime minister attended the opening of the twenty-fourth ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) in Kuala Lumpur as a guest of the Malaysian government. Russia participated in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) as a consultative partner from 1994, obtaining the status of a full dialogue partner of ASEAN in 1996.9 Since November 2004, Russia acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) and adopted the Comprehensive Program of Action 2005-2015 (CPA) and a series of documents promoting a wide range of political and security, economic and development cooperation. In 2010, Moscow was finally invited into the key regional multilateral institutions, particularly the EAS and Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).

Analysts are divided in their assessment of the rationale and the possible outcome of Russia’s engagement into the region.10 Some Russian experts believe that the “Russian factor” within the strategic landscape of Southeast Asia “has risen to prominence.”11 Others point to the unique role of ASEAN for Russia’s return to the Asia-Pacific region.12 Skeptics refer to the limited role of ASEAN in the context of the complex interaction among the leading regional great powers, arguing that, “the situation in the region does not appear to be developing in a direction favorable to Moscow’s interests” and participation in EAS and ASEM is “unlikely to give Moscow immediate positive feedback.”13 One report suggests that Russia “does not have vital national interests in Southeast Asia, but it is interested in developing ties with all countries of the Asia-Pacific to widen economic engagement and promote security.”14

Moreover, Russian policy has stirred controversy, primarily over arms sales to the potentially conflicting parties in the region.15 While declaring that arms transfers do not affect the military balance, some Russians stress the appropriateness of the arms that Beijing has purchased for military actions toward Taiwan and the South China Sea.16 Moscow’s ambiguity vis-à-vis China in the region has been puzzling. Analysts maintain that it has opportunistically used US-China tensions to get a foothold in Southeast Asia and benefit from arms sales,17 to balance China’s growing regional influence, or even to position itself as an independent player vis-à-vis both China and the United States.18

Three key questions should be examined. First, what are Russia’s objectives in the region? Do they extend beyond just purely economic or pragmatic and tactical interests? Second, how do Russian activities in the region correlate with Moscow’s growing dependency on China, which is increasingly looking at the region as a field of intensified competition with the United States? Third, should one expect any balancing role of Russia in a hard security environment in the Asia-Pacific? Russia’s attitudes to the conflict in the South China Sea may be a litmus test here.

Russia’s Foreign Policy Course in Southeast Asia: Strategic or Tactical?

Since the outset of Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency in 2008, Russia has methodically developed its strategy aimed at full engagement in the Asia-Pacific region. Driven by concerns over Russia’s global competitiveness, as well as for development of the Russian Far East, the Kremlin’s strategic and economic priorities now included great power management in Asia, diplomatic efforts to secure the formation of a new economic and political order in the region, and, finally, regional economic integration. The 2008 global economic crisis, which hit western economies and strengthened the emerging Asian countries, along with the loss of trust in many western partners in the aftermath of the war with Geórgia, pushed Russia into the Asian markets. Russia’s accession to the WTO and chairmanship of APEC in 2012 accelerated its pivot to Asia as a “Euro-Pacific” country. A comprehensive strategy toward Asia included a more nuanced partnership with China and deepening ties with other powers in the region, including ASEAN. Moscow no longer regarded its Asia connections as a counterbalance against the West, restoring its global standing; instead it promoted the idea of Russia as an independent, responsible great power participating in the formation of a new world order. These changes justified a course to boost deep, long-term, and multifarious cooperation with all who would reciprocate.

Prior to the Ukraine crisis, Russia supported “limited multipolarity” formats with the involvement of leading powers and the “emerging” nations, including the BRICS, the triangular Russian-Chinese-Indian or Russo-US-Chinese formats, or even quadrangular relationships between Russia, China, the United States, and Japan. It promoted the idea of “collective leadership,” which, as the Kremlin beleived, would secure Russia’s role and further its national interest. Russia advocates multipolarity as a form of co-existence of power centers in a new environment. Russia’s global role is often interpreted as “a civilizational bridge” and “stabilizing buffer” between Europe and Asia.

Being insignificant in its power projection, Moscow assumed the role of conciliator and mediator between regional security structures. It intensified its participation in a number of regional organizations, insisting on its importance in multilateral institutions. Finally, to stimulate its own modernization, Russia was looking for economic integration—proposing numerous joint investment projects in the spheres of energy, high technology and innovation, agricultural cooperation, and infrastructure, while prioritizing its own multilateral organizations such as the EEU and SCO. Unlike Europe where Moscow has to rely predominantly on the major agenda-setters—the core states of “Old Europe”—to advance its security and economic initiatives, East Asian normative practices are set by the ASEAN Way and the balancing role of the US-led system of alliances. With its Asian “pivot,” Russia had to secure integration into the Asia-Pacific region at a moment of  dramatic change in the existing security landscape. The new developments—the rise of China and the great power realignment in Asia, along with the growing role of economic security in the emerging regional order—have intensified US-China competition for regional leadership which might lead to the involvement of other actors, Russia included, in a bipolar confrontation. Great power contestation is exacerbated by the multiple historical grievances and territorial disputes in the region, which fuel nationalism, lack of trust, and aggressiveness of local powers. That politicizes economic integration and undermines the traditional normative leadership of ASEAN, which has already had its unity and centrality tested in the process of economic integration.19

The changing security and economic environment and Russia’s new foreign policy perceptions and priorities created favorable conditions for furthering the partnership between Russia and ASEAN. Moscow’s “new globalism” and idea of Russia as a “Euro-Pacific” power may be regarded as a significant shift in Russia’s global vision. Its ASEAN policy may also be seen as an attempt to secure balance with the United States and China by pursuing its own independent Asian strategy, collaborating with Southeast Asian nations and avoiding “taking sides.” Deeper integration into the ASEAN’s economic space is seen as modernizing Russia and reducing excessive dependency on China.

Adherence to the multilateral context of ASEAN is also seen as contributing to the formation of a new regional order. Against the background of US-China competition for leadership in Asia, Russia’s drive toward a securitized multipolarity compensates for its own very limited role as an independent regional actor with a new role as champion of institutional engineering of multiple security structures in the Asia-Pacific. Unless US-China relations deteriorate, current trends in the regional power balance will still provide Moscow with a unique chance to restore its influence as a power which is neither threatening nor being threatened by its neighboring states. Russia’s success may be guaranteed only if the conditions of relative strategic balance between the major players persist, if Russia maintains its neutrality avoiding attachment to one of the competing hegemonic powers, and if ASEAN maintains strategic coherence and unity. 

In China’s Shadow? The Kremlin’s Southeast Asia Portfolio after Ukraine

Russia’s integration initiatives require active involvement of Southeast Asian nations motivated to engage Russia.20 Of particular importance are the ASEAN-Russian Federation Joint Declaration on Cooperation in Combating International Terrorism (2004), the Concept of Russia-ASEAN Cooperation in Science and Technology (2006), and the ASEAN-Russia Energy Cooperation Work Program 2010-2015 (July 2010). In December 2005, ASEAN and Russia concluded the Agreement between the Governments of the Member Countries of ASEAN and the Government of the Russian Federation on Economic and Development Cooperation. In June 2007, the ASEAN-Russia Dialogue Partnership Financial Fund (DPFF) was established to support joint cooperation projects, and Medvedev suggested at the second Russia-ASEAN summit in October 2010 a roadmap of cooperation in trade and investment.21 Despite complications in Russia-Western relations, Moscow persists in developing relations with Asia-Pacific countries, including its special partnership with the Southeast Asian nations. At the meeting of ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) in Malaysia on August 4, 2015, the Southeast Asian countries agreed on the Post 2015 ASEAN-Russia Trade and Investment Cooperation Work Program continuing the 2012-2015 work program. Russia remains the eighth largest trading partner of ASEAN with a turnover growing from USD 638.1 million in 1993 to USD 22.5 billion in 2014.22 The new Comprehensive Program of Action (CPA) 2016-2020 is expected to be approved by the May 2016 summit to foster cooperation in six areas of economic cooperation—Trade and Investment Cooperation, Industry, Energy, Transport, Finance, and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), plus ties in tourism, the environment, and human resource development.23

Prior to the Ukraine crisis, Moscow and Beijing shared a “multipolar” vision of Asia’s security architecture, based on their interpretations of such principles as good-neighborliness, international cooperation, respect for international law, co-development, non-interference, indivisible security, equality, and opposition to “Cold war”-type power politics. Despite some elements of mistrust between, they coordinated on a security agenda for the regional order-building process. They promoted Asian multilateralism, solidified by a series of confidence-building measures and internalized by all nations in their national military doctrines.24 Russia offered its services, e.g., when Ambassador Vitaly Vorob’ev specified an “ideal” networked security mechanism, which would exclude the hegemonic role of any country and represent the idea of “collective leadership” as in joint action by Moscow and Tokyo to help China and ASEAN reconcile their interests in territorial disputes in the South China Sea.25

Despite China’s role as its biggest partner in Asia, Moscow developed a policy of “strategic diversity” in the region. It pursued numerous energy, transportation, trade, and investment projects with the involvement of the other major powers in the region. Continuous dialogue with India, new projects with the ASEAN countries, including energy cooperation and arms supplies, and economic cooperation with Japan were testimony that Russia sought an independent role in the changing regional environment. It supported every inclusive integration scenario proposed by regional leaders, the idea of an Asia-Pacific community in particular. Its more active role in ARF, APEC (Vladivostok 2012), and ASEM (since October 2010), the idea of a single energy space, and support for ASEAN+8 (EAS), suggested that “neither China nor (the more so) the West can be a window to the Asia-Pacific region for Russia.”26

Moscow expressed ambiguity on the territorial disputes in maritime Asia. In May 2012, ambassador in the Philippines Nikolay Kudashev stated, despite the fact that Moscow was “not indifferent” to the situation in the region, Russia stood “against any meddling by nations other than the claimant countries in the South China Sea territorial dispute.” This statement resonated with the Chinese rejection of internationalization of the dispute, but Kudashev affirmed that Russia shared concerns about freedom of navigation,27 stirring debates in China, where commentators were concerned about lack of support of China’s U-shaped nine-dotted line in the South China Sea and also Moscow’s adherence to the “freedom of navigation” debates.28

The 2014 Ukraine crisis and the breakup of Russia-West relations enhanced Moscow’s “eastward reorientation” and drew Russia into the embrace of China. America’s policy of estrangement of Russia and “smart pushback” against China have, predictably, resulted in speedy development of a “new type of strategic partnership” between the two major Eurasian powers determined to expand cooperation, in Xi Jinping’s words, “no matter what changes occur in the world.”29 Moscow and Beijing have become more articulate about their intent to challenge the existing US-dominated world order in a coordinated way.30 Recent commitments of Russia and China on financial and investment cooperation within the BRICS format are so aimed. During the Asia Pacific summits in Beijing and Naypyitaw in November 2014, the Russian leadership voiced its support of the major Chinese initiatives in the sphere of trade liberalization in the Asia Pacific and also on the creation of a regional comprehensive security architecture. Russia has made a series of unprecedented concessions toward China by promoting natural gas deals between Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and strengthening financial and investment cooperation with China.31 Even after the annexation of Crimea and the imposition of sanctions on Russia, China continued its de facto support of Russia, helping it to avoid international isolation.32 The shared Sino-Russian views on the globalization of sovereignty, the role and the notion of the “international community,” and the principles of international law and global normative consensus lie at the center of this political and ideological congruency of the two countries.

Against the background of a Chinese-Russian quasi-alliance, Russia de facto acknowledges China’s leadership role in Asia while preserving its right to protect specific interests in Southeast Asia, jointly participating in “soft balancing” against the United States and reshaping the regional economic and security order.33 despite its tilt to China and continuing confrontation with the West in Eastern Europe, seem to be realistic and justifiable. Moreover, despite the recent criticism of US policies of mega-regionalism in Asia, the Russian leadership seems to remain cooperative to all major actors in the Asia-Pacific region including the United States and its allies.34 Russia might be more accommodating to China’s policy in Southeast Asia, but it continues to support a more inclusive format for regional cooperation based on the EAS and APEC, providing less support to China’s 2015 “Asia for Asians” initiative.35

In the post-Ukraine crisis era, Russia-ASEAN cooperation is evolving into a political relationship within the framework of Chinese regional leadership as a manifestation of the joint Chinese-Russian effort to reduce US influence in the region. This explains Russia’s prioritized military-technical cooperation with China and its resumed supply of sophisticated fighter jets and air defense systems to Beijing, along with the limited sale of weaponry to Russia’s traditional arms markets in Southeast Asia—Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam—,36 with the prospect of deepening cooperation with Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, and Brunei. Significant progress has also been made in the sphere of space exploration (Indonesia, Vietnam) and the development of innovative technologies (Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam).37 Russia has redoubled its effort to attract ASEAN investment in Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East.

In the economic realm, Moscow pursues a more independent course toward ASEAN. Russian companies are not only participating in a number of oil and gas exploration projects with their traditional partners, but are also assisting Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and the Philippines to build energy infrastructure. One new area of cooperation is the peaceful use of atomic energy in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Myanmar.38 ASEAN remains a specific market for Russian machinery equipment, predominantly in the energy sphere. The 2000 megawatt Ninh Thuan 1 nuclear power plant in Vietnam is underway. Russian business giants are increasing their investment in the energy, metal, and telecommunications spheres, including projects in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam. ASEAN countries are interested in assistance in the construction of the Trans-ASEAN gas pipeline and ASEAN’s united energy system, in which Russia has competitive advantage. Moscow has activated its ties with “old” partners, developing comprehensive relationships with Thailand,39 and prioritizing Vietnam as Russia’s privileged partner in the region, and forming a strategic relationship with Laos, upgrading the relationship to the strategic level and offering Laos a comprehensive program of economic cooperation, while working out a joint nuclear nonproliferation initiative in East Asia.40

Navigating Turbulent South China Sea Waters: Russia as a Security Factor?

In the complex maritime disputes, Moscow’s policy is to keep tensions in their present, non-explosive state,41 while seeking an approach to secure its own role in maintaining regional stability. As Ambassador Vorob’ev put it: “It is necessary to build the framework for the Russian position toward the South China Sea issue, considering all the parameters of the situation. The position should be flexible, responsive to changing conditions, and be oriented at Russia’s ability to exert influence on these conditions, by means of friendly recommendations based on Russia’s own experience in creating trust and mutual understanding between states.”42 One Russian expert suggests that, at present, Russia has a chance to gain a foothold as the largest “swing state” in the area—a strong player, able to influence the balance of power and, at the same time, preserving its independence—, a third force, which refrains from taking sides and weakens the polarization in the region. Recent events around Syria showed that Russia can still apply its diplomatic potential and participate in the settlement of territorial disputes in the South China Sea, which by itself might be an important step in the "return" of Russia to the Asia-Pacific region.43

With regard to regional stability and conflict prevention, there are three areas where Russia sees itself as a key positive player: 1) formation of a comprehensive security architecture backed by strengthened existing regional institutions and practices; 2) maintenance of a geopolitical balance between the parties—claimants of reefs and islands in the South China Sea, and major powers involved in the disputes—by means of cooperation with all players in the sphere of hard security; and 3) development of an atmosphere of trust and cooperation underpinned by common interests in economic development, modernization, and co-prosperity.

In security cooperation, Moscow has consistently pursued “collective leadership,” a multilateral dialogue. Since September 2010, it has been cooperating with China, advocating region-wide negotiations to further institutionalize multilateral security mechanisms in the Asia-Pacific, to develop an open, inclusive and transparent security architecture in the Asia Pacific region based upon universally agreed principles of international law. Despite sporadic disappointment with Beijing’s unwillingness to refer to this initiative, as at the Shangri-La Dialogue, the EAS in October 2013, the meeting of foreign ministers of Russia-India-China in November, and the ASEM foreign ministers meeting in New Delhi also in November, this initiative gained support from India and Southeast Asian countries, Brunei in particular.44

Moscow collides with China’s preference for intra-regional bilateral dialogue on the territorial issues without participation by external players. Russian experts believe that, despite some success in China-led bilateral conflict management, international community-backed regimes could be more sustainable.45 Despite China’s effort to neutralize multilateral solutions of the issue, stakeholders are leaning toward a broader discussion of the issue to reach some collective consensus. Refraining from open statements on its attitude, Moscow joins the regional community calling for the freedom of navigation. Given the shared interests of the majority of regional actors including Russia in settlement of the disputes within the existing security institutions, such as EAS and ARF, there is no need to form a new mechanism.46

Moscow has been increasingly engaging in power balancing through its growing arms supplies to the conflicting parties, becoming an indirect actor in the hard security nexus in the region. In recent years, Moscow has been participating in naval drills with virtually all maritime powers in the region, including both the United States and China. Contrary to speculation about some “signaling” effects of the maneuvers of unprecedented scale with China,47 these drills help to strengthen Russia’s military relations, to learn more about respective naval capabilities, to train its own personnel, and, in some cases, to promote its military hardware in Asian markets.

These engagements may be explained by Russia’s plans to restore its image as a global naval power, focusing on the revival of the Pacific fleet by 2020. According to the vice-president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, Konstantin Sivkov, the use of the Vietnamese port is of paramount importance to the Russian navy. "If Russia wants to be continuously present in the distant areas of the World Ocean, it should have some maneuverable deployment bases, so the ships could be serviced and repaired in dry-docks. If Russia decides on concluding a treaty to set up this kind of deployment base, it will mean that the Russian Federation needs its ships in the southern areas of the Pacific. In other words, by showing its naval colors, Russia seeks to shore up its foreign policy, economic and other interests in the region".48

Despite its “no foreign-bases policy,” tensions in the South China Sea made Vietnam move toward closer defense cooperation with Moscow, including use of the former Soviet naval base Cam Ranh, with its sheltered deep-water harbor and proximity to the vital sea lanes of the disputed South China Sea. During his visit to Russia in 2012, President Truong Tan Sang confirmed his readiness to provide Russia with preferential access to this base, which will be turned into a logistical support point for the Russian navy. Russian technicians are expected to help prepare the base for the first of six state-of-the-art Kilo diesel-electric submarines it is acquiring from Russia. Training and technology transfer related to the submarines would be expanded, while the Vietnamese-Russian oil joint venture Vietsovpetro would have a stake in a commercial repair facility, which will be built by a Vietnamese naval company and be open to international navies.49

Alongside the growing involvement of Gazprom and Zarubezhneft in joint exploration and development of oil and gas resources in the South China Sea, agreements were signed by Russia and Vietnam in 2010 and in the spring of 2013. The joint company has started developing natural gas block 42, inviting Russia’s biggest oil producer, “Rosneft,” to cooperate, which has aroused controversy. Gazprom has some interest in blocks 05-2 and 05-3, in the area disputed with China,50 where two gas-condensate fields were discovered. As a matter of reciprocity, Rosneft has signed an agreement with Petro Vietnam to jointly invest in eight blocks on the shelf of the Pechora Sea, with proven oil reserves of 117 million tons, and natural gas reserves of 70 billion cubic meters.51 Gazprom agreed to jointly invest with Petro Vietnam in the USD 3 billion Dung Quat refinery.52

Russia sees the conflict in the South China Sea as a manifestation of the broader great power contestation for regional leadership, intensified by the US return to Asia and China’s new geoeconomic standing in the region. Therefore, Moscow has developed a pragmatic policy of balancing, trying to prevent a preponderance of power in the South China Sea security setting. Its attitudes toward the territorial disputes in the South China Sea reflect its relations to ASEAN, which open the door for cooperation with Russia in search of solutions to the seemingly unresolvable situation. Russia seeks to hold some leverage in its relationship with the three major parties—China, the United States, and ASEAN—, stimulating multilateral dialogue and upholding the role of the Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) signed in 2002 as a legal framework. Russia has refrained from open support of Beijing’s dubious “historic rights” argument underpinning the nine-dashed line formula in the South China Sea and the territorial claims to the Senkaku (Diaoyu) islands in the Sea of Japan. Moreover, Moscow’s policies are aimed at promoting stronger “connectivity” in Southeast Asia and the strengthening of ASEAN’s consolidated position in its negotiations with Beijing in a multilateral format, preferably with the involvement of international mediation and arbitration. Military cooperation with the opposing parties in a potential conflict and increased arms transfers to China’s neighbors—claimants in territorial disputes—may be an attempt to offset the US leading roles in the region as an indispensable supporter of smaller nations vis-à-vis the growing China.


The upward trend in Russia-ASEAN relations has reflected the change in Asia’s security environment. Facing multiple challenges and setbacks in international affairs, Russia since 1991 has been enthusiastic about its cooperation with any multilateral regional organizations that could help maintain its fading status as a great power and to preserve some influence in international security affairs and economic cooperation. The ASEAN Way, stressing sovereignty, non-intervention, consensus, inclusion, and informality, has been welcomed. Russia’s “multi-vector” course in Asia justifies economic cooperation and pragmatic interaction with numerous old and new Asian partners. Holding the “driver’s seat” in regional economic integration, ASEAN has been an attractive market and source of investment and technology. Another driver in Russia’s policy is its adherence to the concept of a multipolar international order, in which ASEAN forms an independent center of power and provides a framework for multilateral security dialogue. Moscow is searching for ways to promote “strategic diversity” and, in partnership with secondary powers, to develop a coordinated strategy of balancing the influence of the most powerful players. In the era of great power realignment in Asia and US-China tensions in the region, all regional actors are trying to prevent the emergence of a bipolar setting in Asia.

In the changing environment, Russia and ASEAN have developed a common approach to major issues. ASEAN leaders believe that a successful strategy, to a great extent, depends on Moscow’s ability to play a major role in the development of a dynamic multi-layered security order. Trying to restore its political influence and strategic significance in Asia, Moscow has to address its positioning between the great powers as a stabilizer, rather than a “Russian card.” The longer Moscow manages to maintain leadership in the zone of is own control and create its own integrated community, the better Russia can pursue its policy of “strategic diversity,” trying to avoid binding affiliation with the United States or China.

1. See the official web site of the summit, “ASEAN-Russia,”

2. “Sochi to Host Russia-ASEAN Summit in 2016,” TASS, November 17, 2015,

3. “Russia is an Important Partner to ASEAN,” ASEAN Secretariat News, March 20, 2013,

4. “Russian Economy Turns to Asia – Official,” Sputnik, March 29, 2014,

5. Sergei Strikan, Vladimir Mikheev, “Asia-Pacific: Moscow Switches Its Focus to Southeast Asia,” Russia Beyond the Headlines, November 25, 2015,

6. Putin noted that Moscow would be hoping “to reach mutually advantageous agreements on traditional and renewable energy sources, emergency and disaster response, food security and agriculture at the Russia-ASEAN summit next year in Sochi.” Vladimir Putin, “APEC: Towards open and equal cooperation in the interests of development,” Official Website of the President of the Russian Federation, November 17, 2015,

7. On January 26, 2016, Sergey Lavrov recalled Putin’s initiative “to launch together with our partners in the Eurasian Economic Union consultations with the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and ASEAN on the formation of a possible economic partnership opened new prospects for cooperation.” “Russia-ASEAN Summit To Be Held in May in Sochi,” Sputnik, January 26, 2016,

8. “ASEAN: Market Profile,” Hong Kong Trade Development Council, March 16, 2016,

9. Kato Mihoko, “Russia’s Multilateral Diplomacy in the Process of Asia-Pacific Regional Integration: The Significance of ASEAN for Russia,” 141.

10. Vladimir Skosirev, “Vlianie RF v Iugo-Vostochnoi Azii padaet,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta, July 11, 2012,

11. Vyacheslav Amirov and Evgeny Kanaev, “Russia’s Policy Towards the Countries of South-East Asia and ASEAN: Positive Developments, But an Uncertain Future?” Russian Analytical Digest, no. 76 (April 15, 2010): 10,

12. Somphospheak Heng suggests that “ASEAN is a key in Russia returning to its throne as the largest world super power and reviving the prosperity of Russian people.” Somphospheak Heng, “ASEAN Communities and Russia-ASEAN Cooperation,” The ASEAN-Center Official Website, The MGIMO-University, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, March 13, 2016,

13. Amirov and Kanaev, “Russian’s Policy Towards the Countries of Southeast Asia and ASEAN.”

14. Samuel Charap, et. al., “The US and Russia in the Asia-Pacific,” Joint Report, The International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (Washington, DC, 2016): 19,

15. Stephen Blank, “Russia, China, ASEAN, and Asian Security,” E-International Relations, August 4, 2011,

16. Paradorn Rangsimaporn, Russia as an Aspiring Great Power in East Asia: Perceptions and Policies from Yeltsin to Putin (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 94.

17. Elizabeth Wishnick, “Russia: New Player in the South China Sea?” PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo, no. 260 (July 2013),

18. Kang Lin argued that Russia benefited from the South China Sea conflict supplying weapons to the conflicting parties and developing energy resources in disputed waters. “俄是南海争端获益者 开发伸入中国九段线, 环球时报,” August 6, 2012,

19. Barry Desker, “ASEAN Integration Remains an Illusion,” East Asia Forum, April 2, 2015,

20. Moscow is especially interested in cooperating with ASEAN’s major economies—Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

21. Simon Tay, Aaron Chu, “ASEAN posle kholodnoi voini,” Rossiya v Global’noi Politike, February 19, 2012,

22. “ASEAN Strengthen Relations With the US and Russia,” Indonesian News Portal, August 26, 2015,

23. Heng, “ASEAN Communities and Russia-ASEAN Cooperation.”

24. Igor Rogachev, “Rossiiskii podkhod k ATR,” in Vremia korennikh peremen v Vostochnoi Azii, ed. Alexander Lukin; Material from the “Ninth Russian-Japanese Conference on the Prospect of the Formation of Multi-polar System in East Asia” (conference, September 13, 2011), Moscow-MGIMO, 2012, 31-34.

25. Vitaly Vorob’ev, “Perspektivi sozdaniia sistemi bezopasnosti v Vostochnoi Azii,” in Vremia korennikh peremen v Vostochnoi Azii, ed. Alexander Lukin, 39-40.

26. Pavel Salin, “Russia and Asia, or Russia within Asia?” Russia in Global Affairs, no. 3, September 24, 2011,

27. The ambassador was cited as saying “We are continuously committed to the issue of freedom of navigation…We are part of this region and we believe that freedom of navigation is one of the aspects of the solution to the larger problem of the South China Sea which could be secured by the regional countries, first and foremost.” Roy C. Mabasa, “ Russia Against Meddling,” The Manila Bulletin, May 20, 2012,

28. “南海争端中的俄罗斯角色,” Blog, August 22, 2012,

29. “Russia-China Alliance: What is There for the US?” Sputnik, March 2, 2016,

30. Chen Xiangyang, “China-Russia Partnership Brews New International Order,” China-US Focus, May 20, 2015,

31. Artyom Lukin, “Russia Looks Beyond China to Avoid a Shaky Asian Pivot,” East Asia Forum, March 31, 2015,

32. Dmitry V. Kuznetsov, “China and the Ukrainian Crisis: From ‘Neutrality’ to ‘Support’ of Russia,” China Report 52, no. 2 (2016): 1-20.

33. Ibid.

34. Samuel Charap, et. al., “The US and Russia in the Asia-Pacific.”

35. Putin did not fully support Xi’s idea to promote CICA as the core security architecture mechanism in the Asia-Pacific during the CICA summit in May 2015; therefore, to assume that he has been sympathetic to China’s “Asia for Asians” initiative, as Alica Kizekova suggests, might be misleading. Alica Kizekova, “Russia and Southeast Asia: Reciprocity in Engagements and Transnational Crime,” Russian Analytical Digest, no 169 (June 30, 2015),

36. Vitaly Kozyrev, “Russia–Vietnam Strategic Partnership: The Return of the Brotherhood in Arms?” Russian Analytical Digest, no 145 (March 31, 2014),

37. Svetlana Klyuchanskaya, “Perspektivi sotrudnichestva Rossii i stran Iugo-vostochnoi Azii v strategicheskikh oblastiah,” Security Index 17, no. 2: 55-85.

38. Evgeny Kanaev, “The South China Sea Issue: A View From Russia,” in ASEAN-Russia: Foundations and Future Prospects, eds. Victor Sumsky, Mark Hong, Amy Lugg, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), 2012, 104.

39. “Thailand Plays the Russia Card,” The Manila Times, April 24, 2015,

40. On Saygnasone’s visit to Moscow in October 2011, see “Lao president wraps up Russia visit,” Lao Voices, October 18, 2011,

41. Amirov and Kanaev, “Russian’s Policy Towards the Countries of Southeast Asia and ASEAN,” 107.

42. Vitaly Vorob’ev, “Iuzhno-Kitaiskoe more: Kitai i drugie,” Problemy Dal’nego Vostoka, no. 2, (2013): 93.

43. Anton Tsvetov, “The Struggle Intensifies Between US and China for Political Influence in the Asia Pacific,” NewsLand, October 30, 2013, 

44. For Lavrov’s Speech at the EAS, October 10, 2013, see  Also see: “The 12th Meeting of Foreign Ministers of Russia-India-China: Joint Communiqué,” November 10, 2013,

45. Evgeny Kanaev, “The South China Sea Issue,” 104.

46. Vitaly Vorob’ev, “Iuzhno-Kitaiskoe more.”

47. Ben McGrath, “China and Russia hold naval exercise in Sea of Japan,” World Socialist Website, July 16, 2013,; Jane Perlez, “China and Russia, in a Display of Unity, Hold Naval Exercises,” The New York Times, July 10, 2013,; Richard Weitz, “Global Insights: Russia-China Naval Drill Sends Mixed Signals,” World Politics Review, July 23, 2013,

48. “Russian Navy Needs More Bases in the World Ocean,” The Voice of Russia, August 8, 2013,

49. Greg Torode, “Russia Gets Cozy Again in Cold War Port,” The South China Morning Post, March 10, 2013,

50. Kang Lin, “康霖:俄罗斯是南海争端的获益者, 环球时报,”, August 6, 2012,

51. Boris Vinogradov, "V’etnam—partner Rossii v iuzhnykh moriakh,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta, November 11, 2013, This arrangement followed the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed in Sochi and provides for the creation of a joint venture, where PetroVietnam will own 33.33 percent of the shares. The Vietnamese side is obliged to finance exploration on the shelf.

52. Kristine Kwok, “Putin vows to boost Russian military supplies to Vietnam amid South China Sea dispute,” The South China Morning Post, November 12, 2013,