Russia on Saturday signed an economic cooperation accord with Southeast Asia, as Moscow seeks greater engagement with a region that is launching a new economic and security club in the coming week.
The agreement with the ASEAN over the weekend was the first of a series of documents Moscow will sign with the region at the conference through Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur. Russian officials have said those documents would help open a "new era" of cooperation between the two sides.
Russia wants to boost its ties with the 10-member ASEAN, seeing it as a doorway to enter the East Asia Summit, which will be launched on Wednesday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signed Saturday's agreement, which is expected to bolster the still-low levels of trade between the two sides. ASEAN's trade with Russia accounted for only 0.4 percent of the region's global trade last year.
"We're very satisfied with the ministerial meeting," Lavrov said after inking the accord with his counterparts. "This economic declaration would form the basis for the comprehensive program of cooperation between Russia and ASEAN for the years 2005 through the year 2015."
Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said he welcomes Russia's intention to play a bigger role in Southeast Asia.
"The potentials are there, and we can move forward in order to create a more substantial relationship between Russia and ASEAN," Syed said.
Russia's ties with the region so far have focused on political and security cooperation, but it's time to expand the relations to all areas, he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold the country's first-ever summit with ASEAN tomorrow.
A copy of their joint declaration says the two sides are committed to "broadening mutually beneficial dialogue relations in all spheres and at all levels," to strengthen ties in all sectors and to regularize the summit.
Russia is not a member of the inaugural 16-country East Asia Summit to be held on Wednesday, but Putin will watch from the sidelines and will also be given an opportunity to address the group's members.