By Ronna Nirmala
Russia strongly supports diplomatic efforts by the ASEAN regional bloc to end the post-coup crisis in Myanmar, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during talks in Jakarta with his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi on Tuesday.
Moscow’s top diplomat also took a veiled shot at the Washington-led Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) on the Indo-Pacific, saying the four-member group was attempting to undermine the centrality or lead role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the region.
“We reiterated our strong support for the ASEAN five principles,” Lavrov said in a joint press statement after talks with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.
He was referring to a five-point consensus that Southeast Asian leaders hammered out during a special summit on Myanmar in late April.
“In our contacts with Myanmar leaders, military leaders, we promote the position of ASEAN which should be, in our view, considered as a basis for resolving this crisis and bring the situation back to normalcy,” Lavrov said.
In a coup on Feb. 1, the Burmese military toppled the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Since then, nearly 900 people have been killed by the military and police during daily anti-junta protests in the country, according to human rights groups.
The ASEAN consensus, reached during the summit in Jakarta on April 24, called for the appointment of a special envoy from the regional bloc to Myanmar, as well as an immediate end to the violence, among other points.
Retno, for her part, reiterated the importance of acting on the consensus.
“This requires the commitment of Myanmar military to cooperate with other ASEAN member countries to follow up on the five-point consensus,” she said.
More than two months since the summit, though, violence by Myanmar’s security forces continues and there is no sign of an ASEAN envoy, with critics saying the regional bloc squandered any momentum it had achieved in dealing with the crisis.
‘Positions of Russia and ASEAN coincide’
An ASEAN envoy’s appointment was “expected,” Lavrov told an Indonesian daily in an interview Tuesday, according to a transcript published online by the Russian foreign ministry.
An envoy from the bloc, coupled with Russia’s and ASEAN’s “coinciding” positions on how to approach the crisis in Myanmar – especially on the issue of imposing sanctions – would give additional impetus to joint efforts on Myanmar, he said.
“The positions of Russia and ASEAN also coincide when it comes to the rejection of unilateral sanctions, the rhetoric of threats and any attempts to interfere in Myanmar’s internal affairs,” Lavrov told Indonesian newspaper Rakyat Merdeka.
Sanctions are “destructive” and “can only increasingly polarize society and aggravate internal differences,” he said.
“We have a negative attitude to the continued attempts made by some states to use multilateral venues, including the U.N., to incite confrontation during the discussions of the developments in Myanmar.”
Last month, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on Myanmar’s military to restore democratic rule, and urging member states to “prevent the flow of arms” to the country.
But ASEAN member-states Brunei, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand abstained from the vote, a sign that the regional bloc remained divided on the issue. Russia and China also abstained, with the former saying the resolution would not contribute to resolving the crisis in Myanmar.
Like Russia, China has also said it opposes sanctions on Myanmar and supports the ASEAN approach.
For international relations expert Dinna Prapto Raharja, Russian or Chinese support for ASEAN was unlikely to change things in Myanmar.
“Russia is a significant arms supplier to Myanmar. Russia has become one of China’s competitors in terms of providing weapons to the military junta in Myanmar,” Dinna told BenarNews.
“In my opinion, the current situation is still deadlocked as far as leadership change in Myanmar is concerned, and as a result, uncertainty about the protection of civil society in Myanmar will persist.”
Another analyst said ASEAN was only concerned about regional stability.
“As long as there’s stability, and it has the support of external partners that under these circumstances ASEAN remains united, it is enough,” Gilang Kembara, an international relations researcher at the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, told BenarNews.
“The issue of who will lead Myanmar or who will be the special envoy takes a back seat.”
In emphasizing ASEAN’s centrality, Lavrov seemed to take aim at Washington.
He said there were attempts to create “dividing lines” that undercut ASEAN’s lead role in the region – an apparent reference to the U.S.-led Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) on the Indo-Pacific, an alliance which Beijing has branded as anti-China.
The Quad consists of the U.S., India, Japan and Australia.
“We pointed out that there was no alternative to the integration principles of ASEAN,” Lavrov said.
“We also said that we saw attempts to create overlapping mechanisms and draw dividing lines. These activities involve non-regional players that don’t uphold the principles that ASEAN established in the past decades.”
Two weeks ago, Lavrov had said that the Quad countries were “not even hiding their goals” vis-à-vis ASEAN.
The Quad’s Indo-Pacific strategy “was designed to blatantly belittle the constructive and unifying role of ASEAN in the region in order to reformat it for the purpose of containing China and isolating Russia,” Lavrov said at the Moscow Conference on International Security on June 24.
However, the U.S., the European Union and the Group of Seven Nations (G7) have consistently and repeatedly stressed the centrality of ASEAN in the region, including in the crisis in Myanmar.
Lavrov arrived in Indonesia on Monday as part of a Southeast Asian tour, which also took him to Brunei. After Jakarta, he was scheduled to visit Laos.