This month, Russia and Brunei finally held the first iteration of a navy dialogue that both sides had previously discussed. The notable first spotlighted the ongoing collaboration between the two sides in the defense realm, which has witnessed some important developments over the past few years, relatively speaking, despite the challenges and constraints that remain.
As I have noted before in these pages, while the bilateral relationship between Brunei and Russia dates back to 1991, it is only in recent years that both sides have been recording some significant developments on the defense side, including the first Russian warships sent to Brunei as well as the signing of key military pacts to enable the advancement of certain aspects of cooperation. This has occurred amid some gains for ties in other aspects of the broader bilateral relationship too, be it in terms of science and technology, education, and people-to-people exchanges.
2018 has seen some continued developments in the bilateral defense relationship as well, including on the naval side. For instance, in July this year, the Commander of the Royal Brunei Navy (RBN), First Admiral Pengiran Dato Seri Pahlawan Norazmi bin Pg Haji Muhammad, paid his first-ever visit to Russia in that capacity at the invitation of the head of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, Admiral Sergei Avakyants. While is Russia, he witnessed the commemoration of Russia Navy Day in central Vladivostok as well as the holding of the International Far Eastern Maritime Show (IFEMS), which has been characterized as the biggest shipbuilding industry event.
This month, the defense aspect of the bilateral relationship was in the headlines again with the holding of the first naval staff talks (NST) between the two sides. The first naval working group discussion between the Royal Brunei Navy and the Russian Navy, which both sides had been discussing previously, finally took place between November 13 to November 17 at the Naval Training Center at Muara Naval Base.
Unsurprisingly, not much was publicly disclosed about the exact content of the naval talks. But Brunei’s defense ministry (MINDEF) said the talks included topics related to the bilateral relationship – including the scope of activities currently undertaken – as well as wider regional and global issues of common interest. There were also other interactions such as cultural and historical site visits and tours.
The talks also came alongside other activities between the two countries as well that reinforced the developments underway in the bilateral defense relationship. In the midst of the talks, Russia’s military attache, who is based in Malaysia and accredited to Brunei, also made an introductory call to the country. And right after the talks had concluded, three Russian Navy ships also arrived in Brunei for a goodwill visit that lasted from November 18 to November 23.
Both sides plan to continue holding their new navy talks on an annual basis. So far, indications from the two countries are that the second iteration of the Brunei-Russia NST will be held in St. Petersburg in Russia during the second half of 2019.