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Russia, Asean Sign Unprecedented Cooperation Accord

Russian President Vladimir Putin (center) and leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) pose for a group photo at the ASEAN - Russia summit in Sochi, Russia, Friday, May 20, 2016.

The summit holds particular significance as it falls on the 20th anniversary of Asean-Russian Federation relations.

Russia and the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have approved an unprecedented five-year action plan for cooperation over the next five years at a summit in Sochi.

The details of the deal, called the Comprehensive Plan of Action to Promote Cooperation Between the Asean and The Federation of Russia 2016 to 2020 and the Sochi Declaration – obtained by VOA Khmer from an Asian diplomat – focuses on multiple issues ranging from security to economic cooperation, under the slogan that Russia and Asean are moving from dialogue partners to strategic partners.

The summit holds particular significance as it falls on the 20th anniversary of Asean-Russian Federation relations.

In the draft of the Sochi Declaration obtained by VOA Khmer and dated May 7, wide-ranging co-operation between Russia and Asean seeks to build “stronger, deeper and mutually beneficial relations between ASEAN and the Russian Federation towards regional peace, stability, and prosperity”.

It also states that both sides will intensify efforts towards a nuclear weapon-free zone in Southeast Asia.

It also says the parties will “Foster greater cooperation to address traditional and nontraditional security challenges, such as international terrorism, transnational crime, threats to information security as well as countering the illegal production and trafficking of drugs, under global and regional frameworks, primarily through the United Nations.”

The parties agreed to promote trade through implementing the Asean-Russia Trade and Investment Cooperation Roadmap launched in 2012 and public-private partnerships “to mobilize private sector investments”.

Other key issues in the declaration cover territorial claims by Asea countries and China to the South China Sea, North Korea’s nuclear program, terrorism and disaster response systems.

Achmad Rizal Purnama, first secretary at the Indonesian embassy in Washington, DC, told VOA Khmer that the summit was significant as it would allow Russia to contribute towards the security and stability of the region.

“It is important to make our region the land of cooperation and collaboration between major countries,” he said.

American law professor Peter Maguire, author of Facing Death in Cambodia, told VOA Khmer that the alliance between Russia and the Southeast Asian bloc came “as a result of America’s abdication of international political responsibility.”

“By far, our greatest failure since 9-11 has been a failure of world leadership. Putin has stepped up ad hopes to become the next world leader,” he added. “It is as simple as that. With Chinese backing and the daily devolution of American political process, Putin might just pull it off.”

According to the text, Russia also proposed a “comprehensive” free trade agreement between Asean and the Eurasian Economic Union, a single market with a gross domestic product of about $4 trillion. Asean countries said they would consider the proposal.

Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen, who attended the summit in Sochi this week, said on Facebook he was pleased to have had cordial meetings with officials in Russia, which “always provides aid assistance to Cambodia to defend and rebuild the country”.

He also said Putin had called Cambodia “an old friend, a great partner, and a most trusted friend.”

The summit in Russia was notably different in tone from the recent Asean-U.S. meeting in Sunnylands, CA, which had a prominent focus on human rights and democracy.