Cambodia’s Hardstand against Russia

No country or international organisation knows when the conflict will end, and many western experts are worried that it will not end anytime soon now that it has taken a new turn of events since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Since then, the world has been divided, with many countries supporting the trend of western countries to boycott Russia and leave the country to fend for itself.


Cambodia and the Soviet Union, now the Russian Federation, have maintained diplomatic relations for 65 years. Despite the countries’ relative isolation from one another, the people of both countries have learned to get along, and trade and collaborate on the basis of mutual respect and understanding. The years between 1956 and 1970 were the high point of the relationship between the two countries; during this time, Soviet leaders praised King Father Norodom for his efforts to free Cambodia from Soviet influence and turn it into an independent nation where its citizens could finally live in peace. The two nations’ ties have grown stronger in every manner since 1993. In 1979, when the rest of the world recognised the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea as Cambodia’s legitimate government, it was the Soviet Union that backed the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (CGDK). The sole consistent source of yearly funding to the PRK, the Soviet Union was crucial to the country’s continued existence.

Justification for Cambodia’s Unyielding Position

All the western countries and many experts believed that Cambodia would also take the same stand or follow China by supporting Russia, but Cambodia has done the complete opposite and has been extraordinarily vocal in favour of Ukraine ever since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Russia undercut the very basic principle of the United Nations that all “the conflict between any country shall be resolved peacefully.” Cambodia, as the current rotating chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has offered more than just symbolic support for the Ukrainian war effort by signing resolutions and voicing support at the United Nations. Cambodia has decided to send demining experts to Ukraine to assist Ukrainian soldiers in detecting landmines planted by Russian forces. Moreover, Ukraine was able to sign the TAC when Cambodia offered its foreign minister to attend the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh (Treaty of Amity and Cooperation). Cambodia has taken its chairmanship of ASEAN seriously and made efforts to improve unity among ASEAN nations and how the group works together on issues of international law and standards throughout its time in the role. Hun Sen thinks that actions like elevating Ukraine to the level of Senior Dialogue Partner would assist regional groups like ASEAN strengthen their standing in the global community. Many nations and experts were taken aback by Cambodia’s stance at the outset of the conflict, but now many countries, including the United States, are showing their gratitude by adopting a harsh stance against Russia. While the Russian envoy did point out Moscow’s assistance to Cambodia during the cold war, Prime Minister Hun Sen made it plain that “he was not frightened of angering the Kremlin” since Cambodia is not reliant on Russia for military weapons as Vietnam is. As with the rest of Southeast Asia, Cambodia is concerned about the effect of the conflict on food and energy costs, as well as the tremendous impact on the tourist sector, which accounts for 12% of Cambodia’s GDP. Putin has skipped the EAS this year perhaps because of fear that a palace coup may occur while he is overseas. Perhaps he will participate virtually, or perhaps he will send his low-key Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin to stand in for him. The DPs from ASEAN are likely to be OK with any choice. So, too, can Hun Sen, even if the Russians demand that he return the friendship medal he was just given. In the early days of the war, the Cambodian government adopted a firm position, emphasising that it opposed the actions of the Russian Federation. However, a nation’s preparedness to cope with these difficulties is inversely related to its capacity to determine the capabilities of its position. Cambodia, due to its location and its connections with the other nations concerned, is not immediately affected by the issue at hand, and as a consequence, its involvement and influence in the subject are negligible. Cambodia’s location and ties with the other nations concerned mean that it has a negligible role and influence in this topic. Nonetheless, as 2022 ASEAN Chair, the country will need to adopt a new position that emphasises the significance of the organisation. As a result, it must make decisions and take actions that minimise the possibility of bad consequences. Cambodia is always under stress from social, economic, and political pressure because of the country’s position, resources, and power. As a consequence, it needs to ramp up self-help and security hedging in order to limit risk and preserve the national interest. The country must neutralise its stance in a manner that is both practical and flexible, taking into consideration relevant laws and local realities, because of the nature of the link between the two sides, in which Russia tends to have closer connections here. Examples include greater trade and investment cooperation, both of which have helped bring Cambodia and Russia closer together politically and economically in recent years. Cambodia must use prudence in its decision and the approach it chooses to avoid giving up possible benefits. But Cambodia does not turn a blind eye to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. According to Prime Minister Hun Sen, this policy does not mean that Cambodia is not working with any other countries. Cambodia has a duty to follow its constitution and engage in responsible foreign policy, but it also has the right to exercise its sovereignty in any way it sees fit, including by taking measures to defend its borders and vital interests. Cambodia’s impartial posture in the war between Russia and Ukraine has been called into doubt given the country’s current situation. So, his function and interest aren’t sufficient for him to make a meaningful and useful contribution. Nonetheless, if the state maintains its existing position, it will show unanimity on the subject and protect itself from negative consequences. There will always be times for Cambodia to react with caution, regardless of its attitude. Therefore, it would be too simple to assume Cambodia would not be impartial without considering its circumstances.


There is no doubt that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted legitimate questions and worries about Cambodia’s security. However, at this point in the fight, the wisest course of action is to simply wait and see how Cambodia and ASEAN respond if the war does not stop soon. Unless other factors influence Cambodia’s decision.

Anuj Dhyani
Anuj Dhyani
Anuj Dhyani is currently pursuing a master's in Diplomacy, Law, and Business from OP Jindal Global University. My area of interest lies in South Asia, US Foreign Policy, and Chinese Foreign Policy. Currently my academic interests in focused on the security of the Asia region and China’s influence in the region