The is still a lot of room for much closer cooperation between Russia and ASEAN, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at the opening of the Russia-ASEAN ministerial meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan. 
“Even though we really are making progress on a whole number of areas of cooperation, it is clear that the potential for out partnership is far from exhausted," Lavrov said. “I hope that today we can discuss other opportunities as well.” 
Lavrov added that deeper cooperation with ASEAN and closer bilateral ties with ASEAN members was one of the Russian priorities reflected in the latest revision of the Russian Foreign Policy Concept. 
The agenda 
The 10 members of the ASEAN bloc will discuss several pressing issues in Brunei, including the forest fires in Indonesia, which have caused severe air pollution in Southeast Asia, and cooperation in weather forecasting. 
More problems will be discussed in Brunei at the simultaneous meetings of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the East Asia Summit (EAS), with include the 10 ASEAN states plus the ASEAN dialogue partners: Russia, the United States, China, India and Japan. 
One of the issues on the agenda is the proposal by Moscow and Beijing to adopt a declaration outlining the key principles of the security architecture in Asia Pacific. On Tuesday, 2 July the 20th ARF session is expected to approve an updated Plan of Action in fighting terrorism, and a review of best practice in the area of biosafety and biosecurity. 
Russian strategy in Asia Pacific 
Russia’s annual participation in ASEAN events is not limited to lobbying joint projects with ASEAN members. 
The Kremlin is pursuing a more ambitious goal. It wants to formulate a strategy that would give Russia a greater role in discussing regional security issues. 
Moscow’s aspiration to participate in the discussion of “local” problems worries some of the key Asia Pacific actors who regard the region as their own back yard. 
But several countries – especially China – are actually encouraging Russia to participate more actively in regional affairs. 
It is therefore only natural the first meeting Lavrov has held on the sidelines of the ASEAN event in Brunei was with the new Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi. 
Nevertheless, Moscow has been a lot more cautious in its approach to any global economic deals with ASEAN since 2012, when experts of the Russian Ministry of Economic Development and the ASEAN Centre at the MGIMO school of foreign affairs raised doubts about the benefits of setting up a free trade zone with the entire ASEAN bloc. A report produced by those experts claimed that any positive economic effects of such a step would be neutralized or even outweighed by negative consequences. 
Russia therefore prefers to pursue bilateral deals with those countries in the region - such as Vietnam - where it has traditionally enjoyed a strong presence, and where the positive effects of establishing a free trade zone would be the most obvious. 
At the same time, Moscow encourages direct contacts between the Russian and ASEAN business communities. 
For example, the St Petersburg International Economic Forum held in late June hosted a Russia-ASEAN Business Forum, the first such event held in St Petersburg.