Asia Defense | Security | Southeast Asia

New Arms Delivery Puts Russia-Laos Defense Ties in the Headlines

A closer look at the broader significance of a recent arms delivery.

Prashanth Parameswaran
New Arms Delivery Puts Russia-Laos Defense Ties in the Headlines

Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov during a previous meeting held in Laos.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Last week, Russia disclosed that it had delivered another round of tanks and armored vehicles to Laos. While some specifics still remain unclear, it nonetheless spotlighted some of the ongoing activity in the defense aspect of Russia-Laos ties as well as Moscow’s military activities in the Asia-Pacific more generally.

As I have noted before in these pages, Laos and Russia have long had a close defense relationship that extends across several realms, including military education, law enforcement cooperation, and the purchase of military equipment. But ties have been on the uptick of late with several key developments over the past couple of years, including the signing of a contract on military and technical cooperation, deals on assistance on helicopter repair and procurement deals, and even talk of a new Russian defense facility in Laos.

That has continued on over the past year as well. To take just one example, last month, the two countries recorded another notable first in their defense ties with what was characterized as their first joint military exercise. Laros 2019 involved over 500 troops from both sides and took place at Ban Peng training ground in Laos.

Last week, the defense relationship was in the headlines again. Per Russia’s defense ministry, Moscow delivered a second batch of T-72 main battle tanks (MBTs) and BRDM-2M 4×4 armored reconnaissance vehicles (ARVs) to the Lao People’s Armed Forces (LPAF).

According to the ministry, the handover took place during a ceremony to commemorate the 71st anniversary of the founding of the LPAF. And it came amid the spotlighting of other aspects of Russian military assistance, including the Thong Hai Hin airfield, modernized by Russian specialists, which is located in the Xiangkhouang province

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The delivery itself is not surprising. Laotian officials had suggested before that another round of Russian-made military equipment was expected, and Moscow has also previously timed past deliveries with events such as the LPAF anniversary to maximize their effect. More generally, Russia has been keen on showcasing any cooperation it is pursuing with individual regional states to reinforce the notion that it is making significant inroads in the defense domain.

While this is only one example of Russia’s ongoing cooperation with Laos, it nonetheless spotlights the Southeast Asian state’s significance within Moscow’s broader ambitions for defense collaboration with Southeast Asian states. And such manifestations will continue to be important to watch to get a sense of to what extent these ambitions are manifesting into reality.