Are you planning to hold Russia-ASEAN summits going forward?
— Definitely. The first Russia-ASEAN summit took place in Kuala-Lumpur in 2005. The second meeting was held in Hanoi on October 30, 2010. And Sochi hosted the third forum in 2016. Currently, we do not have a tradition of holding annual or bi-annual meetings as is done by some of the Dialogue Partners. But as we move towards strategic partnership we might need to make such meetings more often.
Does ASEAN look up for any other international blocs as a benchmark or does it have its own path?
— Thank you for a very interesting question. ASEAN is unique in that it does not follow any other integration models like the EU but follows its own path.
Over the past 50 years (this year it is marking its anniversary), the group has worked out a unique development model known as the ASEAN Way.
It is centered around dialogue and consensus as the only decision-making concept providing for a comfortable and measured pace of integration. This is critically important because ASEAN unites diverse countries, both economically and politically.
It has been through the ASEAN Way model that the organization has managed to stay alive and transform into a key integration union in the Asia-Pacific..
Could you share any interesting cases from your work as Ambassador-at-large?
— I worked to execute the instructions from my superiors focusing on improving our ties with ASEAN. There were other high-level tasks, too. I also have very positive memories from our preparations for the Russia-ASEAN summit in Sochi in May 2016.
I was privileged to assist in drafting the final documents and the report of the leaders of the so called Russia-ASEAN Eminent Persons Group (AREPG). It was set up to create new ideas and provide recommendations to heads of state and government on ways towards strategic partnership. The Group featured scholars and researchers and officials like me that acted in personal capacity. This was part of what we, diplomats, call 'one-and-a-half track'. It provides for a free exchange of opinions and ideas that could promote our relations. During eight months, we had multiple meetings in Moscow and in capitals of ASEAN member states. It was an exciting if difficult job since multilateral negotiations with ASEAN's best representatives, who are versed in foreign policy issues, require knowledge, experience and awareness of the partners' personal views.
The report by the Eminent Persons Group proved to be a handy toolkit. Some of its suggestions are being implemented, for instance the establishment of Russia's permanent office in Jakarta.
You worked in Indonesia for five years. What does it mean to work in a country with the world's biggest Muslim population?
— Indeed, I worked as Russia's ambassador to Jakarta in 2007-2012. It is an amazing country where three hundred different ethnic groups speaking seven hundred languages live side by side in peace. As you said, the vast majority of its population, i.e. more than 85 percent, are Muslims, mainly Sunnis. Islam pervades every aspect of life. Here in Jakarta you can hear muezzins calling people to prayers five times a day. Islam is felt in many areas of public life. Still, Indonesia is definitely a secular democratic state.
What is the recipe behind peaceful coexistence of South-East Asian Muslims with representatives of other religions?
— There are many reasons for it. First, they have lived together for many years. Islam has been in Indonesia in the 13th and 14th century. Prior to it, Hinduism has been the predominent religion (it is still practiced in Bali). Colonialists brought Christianity in the 16th century. Confucianism and Buddhism came in the 16th century, too, through ethnic Chinese. Multiple centuries have cultivated a respectful attitude towards other religions. This spirit is very strong in the Indonesian society.
It offers favourable conditions for peaceful coexistence of different religions and uninterrupted practice of religious rituals.
Some forces have tried to use religions feelings to promote the terrorist ideology and force new members into terrorist cells. It is becoming increasingly relevant today as ISIS, al-Nusra and others have been looking to expand into other regions, including South-East Asia following their defeat in Syria. This is why regional governments have become much more aware about the issue. They have been stepping up efforts to counter the spread of terrorist ideology, radical ideas and support peace between representatives of different religions.
You also worked as ambassador to Kiribati, East Timor and Papua New Guinea.
— Sharing several positions is a tough job requiring extra effort and time. While in Jakarta, I focused on strengthening ties between Indonesia and Moscow, but I also had to find the time to make regular trips to these countries, talk to their officials and facilitate the development of ties across the spectrum of relations. The issue is that it takes about 3-4 days to go from Indonesia to Kiribati, that's how vast the Asia-Pacific region is.
I have fond memories of my visit to Dili, the capital of East Timor, and my conversations with the president and prime minister of this young state that lasted for several hours.
Back then, the country was struggling because of the lack of resources, qualified staff, experience and domestic instability. Still, we share close perspectives on global and regional issues and are both committed to the UN Charter and international law, and stand against double standards in international affairs. There is significant potential in terms of developing bilateral economic ties, first of all in oil and gas. With the political will from both sides, the potential will gradually materialize in actions.