Russia-Vietnam relationship explained after controversial vote on UN Human Rights Council

Russia-Vietnam relationship explained after controversial vote on UN Human Rights Council

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Vietnam has been warned that its decision to vote against a successful motion to remove Russia from the UN Human Rights Council could put its relationship with the rest of the world in jeopardy. Prior to the vote, the country’s ambassador to the UN, Dang Hoang Giang, said Hanoi was concerned about the impact of the war on civilians. However, he said it was important to “examine and cross-check recent information publicly, with transparency and objectivity and with the cooperation of relevant parties”.

This move may have surprised many, given Vietnam’s deepened and normalised political relations with the US since the Vietnam war.

However, Russia and Vietnam share a long history of mutual respect and political understanding.

Relations between the two powers date back to 1950, when Russia was Soviet Russia and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) established an embassy to North Vietnam.

The Soviet Union was actually one of the first countries in the world to recognise and formally establish diplomatic relations with Vietnam, laying the foundations for what has been a strong and stable friendship.

It was the Soviet Union that pressured the Viet Minh — a national independence coalition formed at Pác Bó by Hồ Chí Minh in 1941 — into accepting that a partition of the country was the only way to solve its border issues post-World War 2.

Russia-Vietnam: The two countries' political ties go back to the Fifties

Russia-Vietnam: The two countries’ political ties go back to the Fifties (Image: GETTY)

Pham Minh Chinh: Vietnam voted against kicking Russia out of the UN Human Rights Council

Pham Minh Chinh: Vietnam voted against kicking Russia out of the UN Human Rights Council (Image: GETTY)

And, while Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin travelled to Hanoi to dissuade the communist politician Lê Duẩn against escalating the Vietnam war against South Vietnam and the US in 1964, the USSR soon became one of North Vietnam’s strongest allies.

From 1968, the Soviet Union provided the north with the vast majority of its military and economic supplies.

They gave their communist allies things like food, petroleum, transport vehicles, iron, steel, fertiliser, arms, and ammunition.

Critically, to what was back then an ideological partnership, Soviet Russia gave these things in the form of aid as opposed to loans, meaning North Vietnam was never expected to make any repayments.

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Vietnam war: The conflict was seen as a proxy war, part of the wider Cold War

Vietnam war: The conflict was seen as a proxy war, part of the wider Cold War (Image: GETTY)

This eased the economic strain on the country while allowing it to make serious gains over the south.

While it has been debated over who won the war, the US was largely viewed as having been defeated in the wider proxy conflict, as Communism prevailed and soon swept other southeast Asian nations.

Soviet Russia became a benefactor of Vietnam when the war ended, propping up an otherwise fragile state.

After the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, relations between Russia and Vietnam persevered.

In January 2001, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Soviet-Vietnam ties, Russian president Vladimir Putin made an official visit to Hanoi, where he was received by then-President Trần Đức Lương.

Russia and Vietnam have many joint trade and business ventures, like Vietsovpetro, an exploration gas company that pumps crude oil from the Bạch Hổ oil field.

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North Vietnam: Communist Vietnamese forces with Soviet weaponry against their southern foes

North Vietnam: Communist Vietnamese forces with Soviet weaponry against their southern foes (Image: GETTY)

Soviet Russia: A Soviet flight instructor shows a North Vietnamese student around a jet, 1966

Soviet Russia: A Soviet flight instructor shows a North Vietnamese student around a jet, 1966 (Image: GETTY)

In 2009, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, visited Vietnam and said: “Relations between the two countries have developed positively.

“We are convinced that the bilateral cooperation will be at a high level.”

The countries also have favourable military agreements.

In 2014, with the backdrop of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, Moscow and Hanoi signed an agreement that simplified the use of Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Base by the Russian Navy.

History: Soviet Communist Party chief Brezhnev calls for the US to withdraw its troops in Vietnam

History: Soviet Communist Party chief Brezhnev calls for the US to withdraw its troops in Vietnam (Image: GETTY)

Around this time, the US accused Russia of intensified Air Force activities in the region that amounted to “provocative” flights around Guam — home to a major US air and naval base.

The idea of Vietnam joining what was then the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Community — now the Eurasian Economic Union — was even floated in 2013.

While Vietnam’s profile as an international community had been on the rise, its decision to side with Russia at the UN Human Rights Council could put a temporary stop to that growth.

Carl Thayer, Emeritus Professor at New South Wales University, who specialises in defence, told Radio Free Asia that “Vietnam has shot itself in the foot”.

Vladimir Putin: The Russian president hugs now-Vietnam president Nguen Xuan Phuc in 2016

Vladimir Putin: The Russian president hugs now-Vietnam president Nguen Xuan Phuc in 2016 (Image: GETTY)

He continued: “Vietnam has always been proud of its prestige in the international circles as a commodity that made it important.

“Any country in the world that is now opposing Russian action is not going to support Vietnam.”

Noting Vietnam’s meteoric rise on the world stage, he added: “Now that smooth sailing is going to hit headwinds and if it continues to support boats like [Russia], Vietnam is going to find increasingly there will be a drop-off in support.”

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