Prior to the fall of the USSR, Vietnamese students were often educated in Soviet Bloc countries, with scientists and central planners moving back to take up important positions in government. The less lucky were exported as guest workers, and many today still take their chances working illegally in Russia and former bloc countries such as Ukraine. (Interestingly, some have argued that the ongoing problems of state-owned ship building company Vinashin and those besetting EVN can be partly traced to the government’s old-style Soviet training).
‘Even though the socialist system has changed…I feel the same. People don’t change,’ says Giang, who still appears sentimental over his busty, blonde Ukrainian love some three decades on.
Russia and Vietnam have in many ways been echoing this refrain of late. For example, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was in Hanoi for ASEAN talks late last year, in a trip that included the signing of a deal under which Russia will build Vietnam’s first nuclear reactor as part of a $5 billion project.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
For Russia, the deal was a welcome affirmation of its technological prowess and came after Vietnam also purchased six Kilo-class submarines, a move many see as tied to Vietnam’s ongoing Spratly-Paracel dispute.
Gavin Greenwood, an analyst with Allan and Associates, a security consultancy group based in Hong Kong, says, ‘The surge in defence spending ahead of the Party Congress, particularly for weapons systems…that appear to be directed at somehow countering growing Chinese military power in the region, may be seen by key leaders in Hanoi as a small price to pay for giving the appearance of standing up to Beijing—regardless of the economic and military realities.’
All of this said, it seems unlikely that these warmer ties will ever echo the Internationale days of old. After all, trade isn’t spectacular, Russia doesn’t give much in aid to Vietnam, and the West, Europe and Asian nations such as Japan and Korea are still the preferred choices as study destinations.
Meanwhile, despite the rumours, the Cam Ranh naval base—which was leased to Russia after the Americans vacated—won’t be taken over again, according to state media. (Although it will be open to foreign navies).
The relationship between India and Vietnam is also one of friendship, dating back to Indian opposition to the US invasion of Vietnam. As Vietnam analyst Prof. Carlyle Thayer, of the Australian Defence Force Academy, notes: ‘There’s a historical dimension dating back to the time of Ho Chi Minh and Nehru. There’s a nostalgic relationship as India was one of the main leaders in the non-aligned movement.’