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A breakthrough year for Russia in South-east Asia?

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This year is likely to be an eventful one for South-east Asia. Elections in Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and, hopefully, Thailand will define the broader direction of where the region is going. But geopolitics will not lag behind domestic politics in significance, especially as the United States appears increasingly unable to counter China's growing economic and political assertiveness.

Could the stars be aligning for Russia to finally recapture some of its regional influence?

Observers have defined Russia's post-2012 "Asia pivot" as something between a roaring success and an empty shell of a policy. China and, more recently Japan, have certainly been at the centre of Russia's efforts to craft a viable "Look East" policy, while Moscow has paid less attention to South-east Asia.

A commemorative Russia-Asean summit in 2016 was more about commemoration than anything else, and the Kremlin's attempt to push for a free-trade agreement (FTA) between the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and Asean was basically met with the latter's benevolent inaction.

Still, a foundation has been laid. First, an FTA with Vietnam has shown Russia's interest in opening up at least parts of its market to South-east Asian countries. The agreement came into force in late 2016 and, in the first 10 months of last year, Russia-Vietnam trade grew 36 per cent.

Second, Russia has........

© The Straits Times