Russian inroads into Southeast Asia: Singapore as a case study

Since 2014, the Russian Federation has suffered from severe economic sanctions imposed on them by the majority of ‘Western’ nations. Because of such actions, the Russian economy has recently stagnated and has left the nation with much desire to find ‘new friends’ within the world of global trade and business. At the same time as this, Russian has begun its major pivot towards the Asia-Pacific. The first signs of this venture by Russia started last year, when the Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong visited the Armenian capital of Yerevan – the latter country being a member of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union.

The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) is a grouping of various Eurasian nations that include Armenia, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The Singaporean Prime Minister’s state visit was not the only significant event to occur for Singaporean-EEU relations. After a series of negotiations, Singapore and the EEU signed a free trade agreement – “the first of that scale for the Eurasian bloc”. This was a massive victory for Russia and its economic ambition within Southeast Asia. This new trade deal could ultimately suggest that Russia has found its own open avenue into the rest of Southeast Asia, thanks to Singaporean economic cooperation.

This unlikely partnership could mean that Russia could become one of the main geopolitical rivals to the ‘West’ once again, especially with Russian businesses seeking to avoid Western sanctions following the annexation of Crimea. The Singaporean Government and its private businesses have already invested into various business markets. However, Russian influence in Singapore is now starting to become more apparent, as there are now  “almost 700 Russian companies in Singapore, including tech heavyweights like Kaspersky Lab and energy giants such as Rosneft and Gazprom. Trade between the two countries reached $5 billion in 2018 and is growing”.

The benefits are almost transparent for both nations. Singapore is one of the leading centres of global finance and is a major player within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Russia on the other hand holds major influence across Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Because of both nations’ respective advantages, it seems almost certain that a profitable relationship between the two will emerge. In addition to this, Russia’s new partnership with Singapore can also allow the EEU to have greater access to those emerging markets in ASEAN.

Moscow during the Soviet Union era of global politics once held significant power and influence through its links with various communist movements during the Cold War. However, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, its influence dissipated also. This is especially relevant regarding Russia’s collapse more recent collapse in reputation amongst Western nations – forcing Russia to pursue alternative markets. Singapore is therefore “an appealing gateway” for the Russian bear, especially when there are other major Asian nations such as India and China having similar trade deals with ASEAN. As the world pivots towards Asia regarding world politics and trade, Russia may play an important part for ASEAN’s rise and struggle amongst the great powers.

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Republished by Technical Politics

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