Russia-Ukraine War: Reasons, Implications Behind Southeast Asia’s Silence

The stance of different parts of the world is being questioned almost two weeks after Russia began its military operation to invade Ukraine. So far, 9 out of 11 Southeast Asian nations have reprimanded Moscow for its impulsive action and called for peace during the UN General Assembly voting. However, a majority of nations from the region are tactically keeping themselves at arm’s length from the crisis.

Southeast Asian countries have participated in the resolution voting diplomatically. Russia’s historic partners Vietnam and Laos have abstained. Singapore has rarely made decisions to impose sanctions on Russia. US’s ally, The Philippines, has remained silent over the crisis situation.

Call For Peace Without Taking Sides

Leaders from many Southeast Asian countries have come forward and openly called upon Russian President Vladimir Putin to resort to peace. They, however, preferred to sit on the fence without criticising Moscow.

Thailand and Malaysia have remained neutral, whereas Indonesia has criticised Russia’s action.

Major Trade Relations With Russia

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has Russia as the ninth largest partner in trade. Moscow is also one of the biggest arms suppliers in the Southeast countries.

Vietnam’s military constitutes over 80% of Russian equipment. The country has its arms spread in the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Even Myanmar’s Junta, the military organisation that took over the country in February 2021, has munitions provided by Russia.

This may have resulted in these Southeast nations abstaining from voting in the UN.

Giving Wide Berth Due To China

China has a vital role to play amid the Ukraine crisis and the Southeast’s reaction. Most of these nations are avoiding frustrating China as they are already up against each other over the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

According to experts, the Ukraine crisis for Southeast nations appears to be a crisis in a distant land in Europe. The defense secretary of the Philippines Delfin Lorenzana said, days after Russia’s invasion, “it’s none of our business to meddle in whatever they’re doing in Europe.”

Governments in Southeast Asian nations have for long favoured the policy of not meddling in other country’s affairs. However, the US and Europe are jointly trying to convince these countries to change their minds over the issue.

‘Smaller Nations May Fail To Prosper’

Putin’s advancement towards Ukraine, mocking international laws and challenging the West’s resolve to defend smaller states. This also threatens the existence of Southeast Asian nations.

Singapore’s foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan said, “Unless we, as a country, stand up for principles that are the very foundation for the independence and sovereignty of smaller nations, our own right to exist and prosper as a nation may similarly be called into question.”