The emerging pattern is that Russian-Vietnamese relations represent a model for cooperation between big and medium countries wherein the first-mentioned helps the second relieve pressure upon it from one or the other superpower, in this case China.
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov visited Vietnam en route to Bali to attend a G20 Summit, during which time he praised his hosts for their principled neutrality towards the Ukrainian Conflict and brave refusal to capitulate to Western pressure to sanction his country. In response, his counterpart Bui Thanh Son said that “I want to assure you that Russia always remains the most important partner and the key priority in the policy of our state.” This is a significant statement that deserves to be further analyzed.
Despite being big and medium countries respectively, Russian-Vietnamese relations are truly equal and mutually beneficial. Each serves as the other’s anchor in their region, which in turn enables them to expand their reach across Eurasia. Their trusted ties go back decades and survived the tumult of the Soviet Union’s dissolution. Not only that, but Vietnam still regards Russia as its “most important partner and the key priority in the policy of [its] state” despite burgeoning military-trade ties with the US.
This communist country pragmatically seeks to balance between the American and Chinese superpowers in what Indian thinker Sanjaya Baru described as the present bi-multipolar intermediary phase of the global systemic transition to multipolarity by relying on its Russian Great Power partner to this end. Bilateral relations provide Vietnam with a viable third choice between those two, which reduces pressure upon it by them to choose sides in the New Cold War.
Importantly, the joint statement that was released following President Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s trip to Moscow in early December cited the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) a total of three times. This element of international law was employed by Vietnam in support of its claims over the South China Sea vis a vis its northern neighbor. Its inclusion in the joint statement very strongly implies that Russia tacitly supports Hanoi over Beijing even though it won’t ever say so all that loudly.
With that in mind, it’s also worth paying attention to their military ties, which enable Vietnam to defend its respective claims from China through Russian arms. Once again, it can’t be emphasized enough that Russia is not “anti-Chinese”, but it will indeed help its top regional partner “balance” the People’s Republic through military means with a view towards facilitating a political solution to their dispute. Vietnam immensely appreciates this, hence why it reaffirmed that Russia is its most important partner.
The emerging pattern is that Russian-Vietnamese relations represent a model for cooperation between big and medium countries wherein the first-mentioned helps the second relieve pressure upon it from one or the other superpower, in this case China. In exchange, Vietnam functions as Russia’s anchor in ASEAN, which is unprecedentedly important to its grand geo-economic strategy in light of the US-led West’s unprecedented sanctions.
There’s a larger paradigm that’s also beginning to be discernable in that Vietnam seems poised to play a leading role in what can be described as the new Non-Aligned Movement (“Neo-NAM”). This refers to the third pole of influence that Russia and India are jointly attempting to assemble in the present bi-multipolar intermediary phase of the global systemic transition. Its purpose is to mutually maximize all its informal members’ strategic autonomy vis a vis the American and Chinese superpowers.
Vietnam is perfectly positioned to play a leading role in this framework by virtue of its principled neutrality towards the Ukrainian Conflict, which is even solider than Indonesia’s after Jakarta regrettably voted at the UN to condemn Russia’s special operation while Hanoi abstained. Moreover, Vietnam voted against the resolution to remove Russia from the Human Rights Council whereas Indonesia only abstained at the time. Quite clearly, Vietnam – not Indonesia – is ASEAN’s leading multipolar force.
This observation explains why Russia wholeheartedly supports Vietnam on all issues of its objective national interests, including its stance towards the South China Sea even though Moscow won’t publicly say so all that loudly for diplomatic reasons connected to its strategic partnership with China. The mutually beneficial grand strategic cooperation between these big and medium countries is truly a model for others to replicate and serves as an example of multipolarity in practice.