Russia has been stepping back out onto the world stage in recent years. Buoyed by earnings off its natural gas and oil reserves, Russia has cautiously been working to reestablish itself as a world power. Now, Russia is moving to reassert its strength by building up relations with Vietnam.
Russia’s retreat from Asia
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has largely retreated from Asia. While even the Soviet Union was not a major player in Asia, mostly due to Chinese presence, the Soviet Union did maintain strong relationships with several countries, including Vietnam. The Soviet Union and India were also close allies, much to the chagrin of the United States.
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The Soviet Union supported Vietnam during its war with the United States, supplying weapons and training. After Vietnam and China came to blows in 1979, the Soviet Union stepped in as Vietnam’s largest benefactor. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, relations between Russia and Vietnam remained strong, although military cooperation dropped off considerably as Russia withdrew from the world stage.
Russia is now looking to build up its relationship with Vietnam, much to the angst of China. Vietnam has long been a thorn in the side of China’s back. China and Vietnam actually fought a war in 1979, and while China won easily, the Vietnamese have remained among the most vocal critics of Beijing. While China and Russia have been cooperating in their opposition to American influence, they are increasingly becoming rivals in other political arenas.
Vietnam has become one of the largest customers of Russian-made weapons, and the Vietnamese aren’t simply buying assault rifles and grenades—they have been purchasing planes, submarines, and other advanced pieces of equipment. The Russians have also been helping Vietnam build up its military infrastructure, including submarine docks. These moves have infuriated Beijing, while the United States has largely remained quiet. Most likely, American military planners see strong Vietnamese-Russian relations as a way to isolate China.
United States reducing global military footprint
These developments suggest that predictions of a multi-polar world are slowly coming true. Despite its abilities to make headlines in recent weeks, the United States has actually been looking to slowly reduce its global military footprint and involvement in numerous local situations. At the same time, China is looking to establish itself as a genuine world power and trying to assert itself as the leading power in Asia.
Meanwhile, other emerging nations such as India and Brazil are also trying to ramp up their international presence. India recently launched a new aircraft carrier and has slowly been working to upgrade its military capacity to counter growing Chinese power. Brazil has been quieter on the military front, but has been more vocal in regional and global affairs, frequently challenging the United States and other countries.
China building military presence
Russia’s re-entrance to the world stage, however, may be the most important development. China has already made it clear that it will begin to increasingly assert itself in global affairs and build up its military presence. While Russia hasn’t exactly been slinking in the shadows, it hasn’t exactly been jumping for the spotlight either. Now, however, Russia may be looking to reassert itself as a global power, if not a super power.
As this happens, relations between Russia and China could become strained, which may allow the United States opportunities to drive a wedge between the two nations. This would help America balance itself against its two biggest rivals who, when combined, represent a credible long-term threat to American military supremacy.