The conflict between Ukraine and Russia, now in its fourth month, has evoked a plethora of reactions from various capitals. Outside the western world, the reaction to this conflict has been as varied as it gets. On the surface, some, if not most nations have been hesitant to openly criticise Russia as the aggressor but have no compulsions in voting on resolutions in the United Nations (UN) that is tantamount to blaming Moscow for the current crisis. However, one region of the world where this complexity has been quite visible has been in the case of Southeast Asia and its regional grouping, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The two statements issued by the regional organisation in February[i] and March[ii] were a plea to the warring parties to “exercise maximum restraint and make utmost efforts to pursue dialogue through all channels” and a “call for an immediate ceasefire or armistice and continuation of political dialogue that would lead to sustainable peace”, respectively. However, the positions of the ten individual nations show nuances. Singapore has not only named Moscow as the aggressor but has also imposed sanctions on Russia. The city-state has imposed sanctions on Russia by blacklisting four Russian financial institutions and imposing restrictions on the export of electronics, computers, and equipment that have military application.[iii] On the other hand, Vietnam and Laos are the only two nations from the ASEAN bloc to have voted in favour of Moscow on the resolution that was tabled in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in early March.[iv]&[v]
This divergence within the Southeast Asian nations is not only a reflection of the divergence of their individual world view but also their respective national priorities. This divergence of priorities stems from the degree of political, economic, and military dependency or exposure to either Russia or lack thereof.
The Economic Implication of the Conflict
After the outbreak of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, international energy prices, especially that of crude oil and natural gas, witnessed a considerable spike. However, currently, some form of stability seems to be returning to the energy markets. According to projections, the volatility in the crude oil market is not only expected to stabilise but the prospects of a decline even if marginally is expected by the end of the year, from the spike seen beginning of 2022.[vi] Such a forecast can be attributed to the inherent dynamics of the international energy market.
In the international market, Russia is the second-largest source of natural gas with an estimated output of 22.5 trillion cubic feet, and the third-largest crude oil producer with an average of 10.5 million barrels/day output. Russia is also the third-largest exporter of coal as well as being an important source of minerals, particularly nickel, palladium, platinum, and titanium, as well as aluminium, copper, and uranium.[vii]
However, the real impact of Russian hydrocarbons in the international market is limited.[viii] The primary reason for this is that much of the Russian hydrocarbons are directed towards Europe. Nearly half of the oil and nearly a quarter of the natural gas of Russia are exported to Europe. China, on its part, sources nearly a third of its oil from Russia.[ix] Coal, on the other hand, is not as widely traded in the energy markets and thus would have a rather limited impact. It is to be noted that more than half the global demand for coal is met by Indonesia and Australia and the demand for same is predominantly in China, India, Japan, and South Korea.[x] Given this dynamics, the importance of the Russian coal is marginal as both Australia and Indonesia can meet the demands of the Asian market.
When it comes to minerals, the availability and price of the same will impact a number of industries. Even though these minerals are the backbone of the global manufacturing industry, the impact on their availability and the price, owing to the conflict will be rather minimal. This largely owes to the earlier experience of supply chain disruption of minerals caused by the Covid pandemic[xi] of the past two years. Resultantly, nations have been working on supply chain resilience for both raw materials and finished products.
Challenges for Global Food Security
Concerns as to the fallout of this conflict in Eastern Europe lies also on the availability of food. Even though Russia and Ukraine are not the largest producers of agricultural produce, both these nations are key suppliers in the global grain market. It is to be noted that the key theatres of military engagement in this conflict are largely concentrated in and around the fertile agriculture lands/ breadbasket of Ukraine.[xii]&[xiii]
These two nations, together account for about a third of the global wheat supply and about fifth of maize[xiv], three-quarters in terms of sunflower, and a third of barley.[xv] Prior to the outbreak of hostilities, Ukraine’s grain exports alone feed 400 million people.[xvi] Though much of the food produced by the two belligerents were largely meant for the markets concentrated in Africa and West Asia, they did have considerable presence in other parts of the world including Southeast Asia, as well.
What is at Stake for Southeast Asian Nations?
In the context of Southeast Asia, four from this region are amongst the top fifteen importers of Ukrainian and Russian wheat. Indonesia (2.72 million tons), Philippines (.63 million tons), Thailand (.56 million tons) and Malaysia (.4 million tons) are dependent upon Ukrainian wheat. The Philippines, additionally imports another .55 million tons of wheat from Russia.[xvii] For Indonesia, Ukraine is its largest supplier of wheat.[xviii]
For the region as a whole, the real challenge lies not just in terms of grain prices and its availability but also that of fertilisers. Russia has a prominent presence in the global fertilizer market as Moscow is the single largest exporter.[xix]
Russia exports alone account for the global availability of a sixth of potassic fertilisers, more than a tenth of nitrogenous fertilisers, and around one-sixth of mixed fertilisers (containing two or more of nitrogen, potassium and phosphate).[xx] As key players in the fertiliser market, this conflict in Eastern Europe can also have an adverse impact on the availability and price of agricultural commodities in those nations that are dependent on imports of the same from either Russia or Ukraine. Southeast Asian nations like Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam source over a tenth of their fertilisers from Russia, whereas Indonesia procures more than 15 per cent of its fertilisers from Moscow.[xxi] With such a high dependency, the challenge for ASEAN is to ensure food security.
Another area which is of concern is the region’s dependency on Russian arms and armament. For Vietnam most of its inventory is of Russian origin. Close to half of Laos and Myanmar’s military hardware is Russian origin, whereas as a fifth of Malaysian and a tenth Indonesian arsenal is sourced from Moscow.[xxii]
Direct impact of the conflict, which is more of a bilateral in nature, is felt in Thailand. The region’s second largest economy’s tourism sector would be most exposed. According to the Kingdom’s projections prior to the onset of hostilities, Thailand was expecting an inflow of over 450,000 tourists from Russia for this current year. Owing to the conflict and the subsequent sanction regime which is now in place, the nation does not expect any Russian tourists and thereby expects its GDP growth for the year to be lowered by 0.2%.[xxiii] This, for Thailand, is of significance as the nation was “one of the region’s hardest-hit during the pandemic.”[xxiv]
All this is to be seen in the light of the fact that neither Russia nor Ukraine are major trading partners of ASEAN as a bloc. The total trade of the bloc with Russia is about 0.64 per cent and with that of Ukraine is at 0.11 per cent.[xxv] Even with this low level of exposure, the region has to bear with the economic shocks caused by this conflict. The most telling of this had been in Indonesia, the world’s largest exporter of palm oil, banning the global trade of the same in the international market, though only for a week.
Looking beyond numbers
The case of ASEAN and its position with respect to the Ukrainian conflict is influenced by the dependencies outlined above. Additionally, ASEAN as a bloc generally refrains from taking a strong position on international developments. This is not only with respect to developments that take place beyond the region but also within the region. Even in issues that are of direct concern, Southeast Asian nations have been generally less vocal in expressing their individual position on the global stage. Instead they seek to address the said concerns through the ASEAN way of dialogue and consultation.
ASEAN’s statements on the conflict in Eastern Europe broadly sought reconciliation between the two parties and avoided open criticism of either Russia or Ukraine. This position, on the face of it, seems to be the region’s hands-off approach, but rather a calculated approach that takes into account the cost of this conflict. It can be concluded that the wait and watch approach of the nations of this region stems not necessarily from direct bilateral ties with either Russia or Ukraine but the socio-economic cost that they along with much of the world would have to pay.
* Dr. Sripathi Narayanan, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.
[i] ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Statement on the Situation in Ukraine, ASEAN Secretariat, February 26, https://asean.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/ASEAN-FM-Statement-on-Ukraine-Crisis-26-Feb-Final.pdf, accessed on May 11, 2022.
[ii] ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Statement on the Situation in Ukraine, ASEAN Secretariat, March 3, 2022, https://asean.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/ASEAN-Foreign-Ministers-Statement-calling-for-Ceasefire-in-Ukraine-EN.pdf, accessed on May 11, 2022.
[iii] Minami Funakoshi, Hugh Lawson and Kannaki Deka, “Tracking sanctions against Russia”, Reuters, March 9, 2022, https://graphics.reuters.com/UKRAINE-CRISIS/SANCTIONS/byvrjenzmve/, accessed on May 14, 2022.
[iv] UN General Assembly demands Russian Federation withdraw all military forces from the territory of Ukraine, European Union External Action Service, March 2, 2022,
https://www.eeas.europa.eu/eeas/un-general-assembly-demands-russian-federation-withdraw-all-military-forces-territory-ukraine_en#:~:text=On%202%20March%2C%20the%20UN,and%20abide%20by%20international%20law, accessed on May 14, 2022.
[v] The vote for Myanmar was casted by a pro-democracy representative and not a representative of the military government.
Bill Hayton, “ASEAN is slowly finding its voice over Ukraine”, Chatham House, March 4, 2022, https://www.chathamhouse.org/2022/03/asean-slowly-finding-its-voice-over-ukraine, accessed on May 13, 2022.
[vi] Short-Term Energy Outlook, US Energy Information Administration, May 10, 2022, https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/steo/report/global_oil.php, accessed on May 12, 2022.
[vii] Tim G. Benton, Antony Froggatt and Laura Wellesley, “The Ukraine war and threats to food and energy security”, Chatham House, April 2022, https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/2022-04/2022-04-12-ukraine-war-threats-food-energy-security-benton-et-al.pdf, Page 5, accessed on May 11, 2022.
[viii] Russia, US Energy Information Administration, March 14, 2022, https://www.eia.gov/international/analysis/country/RUS, accessed on May 11, 2022.
[ix] Russia, US Energy Information Administration, March 14, 2022, https://www.eia.gov/international/analysis/country/RUS, accessed on May 11, 2022.
[x] International Energy Agency, https://www.iea.org/reports/coal-information-overview/trade, accessed on May 14, 2022.
[xi] Sean Harapko, “How COVID-19 impacted supply chains and what comes next”, Ernst & Young, Febrauary 18, 2021, https://www.ey.com/en_gl/supply-chain/how-covid-19-impacted-supply-chains-and-what-comes-next, accessed on May 20, 2022.
[xii] Ian Ralby, Dr. David Soud, Rohini Ralby, “Ukraine is Not Enough: Just the Beginning of Russia’s Assault on the World”, IR Consilium, February 25, 2022,
https://irconsilium.com/ukraine-is-not-enough-just-the-beginning-of-russias-assault-on-the-world/, accessed on May 10, 2022.
[xiii] Tim G. Benton, Antony Froggatt and Laura Wellesley, “The Ukraine war and threats to food and energy security”, Chatham House, April 2022, https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/2022-04/2022-04-12-ukraine-war-threats-food-energy-security-benton-et-al.pdf, Page 20, accessed on May 11, 2022.
[xiv] Food security implications of the Ukraine conflict, World Food Programme, March 2022, https://docs.wfp.org/api/documents/WFP-0000137707/download/?_ga=2.25740157.1183678790.1652252162-489287983.1652252162 Page 8, accessed on May 10, 2022.
[xv] Food security implications of the Ukraine conflict, World Food Programme, March 2022, https://docs.wfp.org/api/documents/WFP-0000137707/download/?_ga=2.25740157.1183678790.1652252162-489287983.1652252162 Page 3, accessed on May 10, 2022.
[xvi] War in Ukraine: WFP calls for ports to reopen as world faces deepening hunger crisis, World Food Programme, May 6, 2022, https://www.wfp.org/stories/war-ukraine-wfp-calls-ports-reopen-world-faces-hunger-crisis, accessed on May 11, 2022.
[xvii] Food security implications of the Ukraine conflict, World Food Programme, March 2022, https://docs.wfp.org/api/documents/WFP-0000137707/download/?_ga=2.25740157.1183678790.1652252162-489287983.1652252162 Page 3, accessed on May 10, 2022.
[xviii] Indonesia to remain key market for Ukrainian wheat, Argus, November 20, 2022, https://www.argusmedia.com/en/news/2161964-indonesia-to-remain-key-market-for-ukrainian-wheat, accessed on May 11, 2022.
[xix] Tim G. Benton, Antony Froggatt and Laura Wellesley, “The Ukraine war and threats to food and energy security”, Chatham House, April 2022, https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/2022-04/2022-04-12-ukraine-war-threats-food-energy-security-benton-et-al.pdf, Page 5, accessed on May 11, 2022.
[xx] Tim G. Benton, Antony Froggatt and Laura Wellesley, “The Ukraine war and threats to food and energy security”, Chatham House, April 2022, https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/2022-04/2022-04-12-ukraine-war-threats-food-energy-security-benton-et-al.pdf, Page 9, accessed on May 11, 2022.
[xxi] Weizhen Tan, "New study lists Asian countries that will be hit hardest — and least — by the Ukraine war”, CNBC, https://www.cnbc.com/2022/04/08/asia-winners-and-losers-in-russia-ukraine-war-commodities-weapons.html, accessed on May 19, 2022.
[xxii] Weizhen Tan, "New study lists Asian countries that will be hit hardest — and least — by the Ukraine war”, CNBC, https://www.cnbc.com/2022/04/08/asia-winners-and-losers-in-russia-ukraine-war-commodities-weapons.html, accessed on May 19, 2022.
[xxiii] Janine Phakdeetham, “How will the war in Ukraine affect Thailand?” Bangkok Post, March 2, 2022, https://www.bangkokpost.com/business/2272403/how-will-the-war-in-ukraine-affect-thailand-, accessed on May 17, 2022.
[xxiv] As sanctions bite Russia, fertiliser shortage imperils world food supply, Channel News Asia, March 23, 2022, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/business/sanctions-bite-russia-fertiliser-shortage-imperils-world-food-supply-2581406, accessed on May 19, 2022.
[xxv] Murray Hiebert, “Fallout in Southeast Asia of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine”, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, March 11, 2022, https://www.csis.org/analysis/fallout-southeast-asia-russias-invasion-ukraine, accessed on May 19, 2022.