How Is Cambodia Navigating the Impacts of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine?

In the five weeks since the invasion, the country has pivoted from neutrality to condemnation of the Russian aggression.

On a boiling tropical afternoon in mid-December, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s trusted ally Nikolai Patrushev, who serves as the secretary of the Security Council of Russia, stepped into Ballroom Two of the Sofitel Hotel in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh. Waiting for him inside was Hun Manith, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s middle son and the nation’s top military spy. The two intelligence czars and their teams discussed ways to combat people’s revolts known as “color revolution” and “exchanged information” on the political and strategic situations in Asia and Europe.

As Patrushev conducted his Southeast Asia tour, Moscow was beginning to deploy troops and tank columns to the Russo-Ukrainian border en masse. This, as we now know, would later develop into the much-condemned invasion of Ukraine and the attempted “demilitarization” and the “denazification” of the government of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Exactly 11 weeks after the Manith-Patrushev meeting, on March 2, Cambodia made what some viewed as a surprising move. The country’s mission to the United Nations decided not just to vote yes but also to co-sponsor a U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) resolution deploring the Russian invasion. Prime Minister Hun Sen himself said that Cambodia was lobbied by France, Germany, Japan, and the United States to do so and that the nature of the invasion went against Cambodia’s foreign policy principles of opposing separatism and the use of force. Hun Sen even went so far as to tell government mouthpiece Fresh News that he doubted Moscow’s chance of “winning” its war against Ukraine.

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