Asia Defense

Russia-Vietnam Military Ties in the Spotlight

The visit of Vietnam’s defense minister has once again put the focus on one of Vietnam’s traditional relationships.

Russia-Vietnam Military Ties in the Spotlight

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, right, and China’s Central Military Commission Vice Chairman Zhang Youxia pose for a photo prior to their talks at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017.

Credit: AP Photo

This week, Vietnam’s Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich paid a visit to Russia. Though the interaction was just the latest in a series we have seen thus far in 2018, it has nonetheless put the spotlight on Russia-Vietnam defense relationship and highlighted future steps that the two countries are looking to take in ties.

As I have noted before in these pages, Vietnam and Russia have a defense relationship that dates back to the Cold War and continues on today as Hanoi continues to modernize its military and Moscow seeks a stronger and more visible defense presence in the broader Asia-Pacific. Existing defense cooperation extends across areas and both sides have looked at deepening collaboration even further through established mechanisms.

That has continued on into 2018. For instance, back in January, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu visited Vietnam and met with top Vietnamese officials including Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich, President Tran Dai Quang, and Communist Party Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong. Though the focus was on ties more broadly and the stated progress was more hype than reality, both sides agreed to expand defense ties as well, targeting areas such as visits, naval training, and peacekeeping activities (See: “Russia-Vietnam Military Ties in the Headlines with Defense Minister Visit”).

A series of other interactions have followed since. In mid-March, Senior Lieutenant Ngoc Minh, the deputy chief of the general staff of the Vietnam People’s Army (VPA) and the deputy head of the defense steering board for UN peacekeeping operations visited Russia. Peacekeeping operations was the stated focus of the visit, with Vietnam deploying a level-2 field hospital to South Sudan later this year (See: “What’s Next for Vietnam’s New Military Peacekeeping Role?”). More recently, defense ties were also touched on more generally during Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s delayed visit to Vietnam in late March, which came shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin was unsurprisingly reelected for his fourth term.

This week has once again put the bilateral defense relationship in the headlines. Vietnam’s Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich took off on April 3 to Russia for a series of engagements, including attendance at the seventh Moscow Conference on International Security April 4-5, an annual dialogue launched by the Russian defense ministry back in 2012.

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But Russia and Vietnam were also set to hold defense consultations on the sidelines of the meeting as well, with Ngo meeting with Shoygu. In an interview ahead of Ngo’s visit, Lieutenant General Vu Chien Tang, the director of the foreign relations department of Vietnam’s defense ministry, said both sides would discuss ways to reinforce military ties.

Unsurprisingly, few specifics have been publicly disclosed by both sides about exactly how they plan on following through the expansion of their defense collaboration across these areas. But amid the focus on Vietnam’s expanding ties with newer partners such as the United States, it is also worth paying attention to Hanoi’s continuing efforts to also shore up its traditional relationships including with Russia (See: “What’s Next for US-Vietnam Defense Relations Under Trump?”).