Russia and France are wooing Southeast Asian countries after the two world powers were excluded from the AUKUS defense pact and the Quad Strategic Dialogue Group – a pair of state-led multilateral security agreements – United in the heart of the Indo-Pacific.
On Tuesday, the Russian Embassy and Indonesian Navy announced that Moscow and several members of the ASEAN bloc will hold their first-ever joint naval exercise in early December. The exercises off the Indonesian island of Sumatra will involve Admiral Panteleyev (pictured), Russia’s large anti-submarine warship, they said.
“All ASEAN member states have been invited to this exercise,” Natalia Naumova, spokesperson for the Russian mission to the Association of Nations, told BenarNews, an online news service affiliated with RFA. from Southeast Asia to Jakarta.
“Seven countries, including Myanmar, will send their warships. “
Three of ASEAN’s 10 member states will not send warships, but will participate in the online phase of the exercise and then observe the phase at sea, Naumova said, declining to name the countries.
Laos and Cambodia are among the countries that will not deploy ships to the exercises, an Indonesian navy spokesperson told BenarNews. The other members of the regional bloc are Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
The exercise between ASEAN members and Russia, the world’s third-largest naval power, is scheduled for December 1-3. It will take place in the Indonesian waters of the Indian Ocean off the coast of Aceh province, said First Admiral Julius Widjojono, Indonesian Navy spokesman. .
The exercise aims to increase operational cooperation between the navies of ASEAN member states and Russia “to ensure the safety of maritime economic activity and civil navigation,” the Russian embassy said in a communicated.
Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto will order the start of the exercise for Admiral Panteleyev, a destroyer assigned to the Russian Pacific Fleet, he said.
“We hope the exercise will help strengthen relations between ASEAN and Russia and regional maritime security,” Admiral Julius told BenarNews.
Russia and ASEAN have been in dialogue since 1996, but Moscow’s growing focus on Southeast Asia comes amid two US-led pacts – AUKUS, a defense alliance with the UK and Australia, and the Quad with Australia, India and Japan.
Russia’s increased engagement in Southeast Asia also comes after Moscow suspended its mission to NATO, when the latter expelled eight Russian military officers from its headquarters in Brussels on allegations of espionage.
Last month Russian President Vladimir Putin told Southeast Asian leaders at a Russia-ASEAN summit that strengthening ties with the bloc was “one of the country’s foreign policy priorities. Russia ”.
These include cooperation to enhance stability and security, safeguard post-pandemic economic recovery, boost trade and expand humanitarian ties, he said.
“Russia and the ASEAN countries share, in many ways, similar positions on major global and regional issues. What is crucial is that we all support equal and mutually beneficial cooperation in the vast Asia-Pacific region, ”Putin said at the summit, according to the Russian news agency TASS.
Bilaterally, Russia has conducted naval exercises with several ASEAN countries, including Indonesia and Vietnam. In December 2020, three Indonesian Navy ships and three Russian ships held a joint exercise in the Java Sea.
ASEAN also benefits from Russia’s culture, the Observer Research Foundation noted in an article last year.
The countries of Southeast Asia “seek to build a policy which would allow them to avoid taking sides between China – with which they were deeply linked economically – and the United States – which was their guarantee of security. against any adventure of the rising power, ”according to the newspaper. written by academic Nivedita Kapoor.
This first-ever naval exercise between Russia and ASEAN will also benefit Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, according to Arie Afriansyah, senior lecturer in international security at the University of Indonesia.
“Indonesia has the greatest interest in this exercise because most of the Strait of Malacca is in Indonesian territory,” he said.
Indonesia needs a safe Strait of Malacca because it is one of the busiest sea routes in the world, Arie added.
French Foreign Minister visits Indonesia
France, for its part, was extremely unhappy with the AUKUS Pact, under which the United States and the United Kingdom pledged to provide Australia with the technology for nuclear-powered submarines.
France lost a major contract for the sale of submarines to Australia, because of AUKUS, so Paris tried to court other Indo-Pacific powers, in particular Indonesia, the most sprawling country in the world. ‘Southeast Asia, for “real” relationships.
In addition, France is not part of the Quad – which is committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific – despite the presence of island territories in the region. She is therefore turning to South-East Asia to forge relations, and particularly to Indonesia which, according to Paris, is “at the heart of France’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific region”.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was due to arrive in Jakarta on Tuesday for a two-day visit which, according to Paris, aims to show his attachment to the Indo-Pacific.
The Drian is due to meet his Indonesian counterpart, Retno Marsudi, and President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Wednesday, Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said.
The French Embassy in Jakarta said in a statement that it emphasized “the commitment to contribute to regional security and the establishment of an international order in the Indo-Pacific, based on the law and multilateralism “.
On October 31, French President Emmanuel Macron met Jokowi on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome. After the meeting, Jokowi said he welcomed the “progress” in defense cooperation between the two countries.
In July, Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo said his ministry hoped to acquire advanced fighter jets, including US-made F-15s, Rafales from France, and Sukhoi Su-35s and Su-57s from Russia.
“Indonesia will probably settle on the fighter jets least likely to praise China or the United States, giving the French Rafale offer an edge over the others, unless a new competitor does. appears on the horizon, ”said the article by Johannes Nugroho, an Indonesian political analyst. .
Reported by BenarNews, an online news service affiliated with RFA.