Soldiers representing Vietnam are participating in the International Army Games 2022 in Moscow, Russia. This is an annual competition organized by the Russian Ministry of Defense, with tank competitions making the name of this event.
In this year’s tank competition, Vietnam along with 20 other countries sent troops to participate, most of which are allies of Russia such as Belarus, Venezuela, Syria, Myanmar, and China.
It is worth noting that this event takes place as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has entered its sixth month, and the country is under sanctions by almost all free countries and their allies.
In the context that Vietnam is pursuing a policy of strengthening relations with the United States to balance pressure from China, sending troops to Russia to participate in a military competition, according to experts, is a bad idea.
Talking to Radio Free Asia, Professor Carlyle Thayer, an Australian international relations expert, said his views on this issue:
“For Vietnam, this event brought attention as well as a bad atmosphere.
This military sports festival has many competitions, you need to show your skills to be awarded, just like an Olympic event of the military world. But with the current atmosphere, as well as participating in this competition with Russia, it is not good and it could damage the reputation of Vietnam.”
There is a risk to the country’s reputation, but according to the retired professor, Vietnam does not have many options, because of its dependence on Russia.
“When the United Nations voted to suspend Russia’s membership of the Human Rights Council, the Russian Ambassador told Vietnam and other countries that if these countries voted yes, they would be considered an act of unfriendly towards Russia.
So I surmise that if Vietnam withdraws from the military sports event at this stage, it will be seen as unfriendly behavior by the Russian side. It would be construed as an act of protest against Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Vietnam has so much to lose in this relationship because of its dependence on Russia.”
Vietnam is not on the list of “unfriendly countries to Moscow.” The governments of these unfriendly countries will have to pay for gas in rubles and tighten visas for citizens of that country…
According to Professor Carlyle Thayer, Vietnam depends on Russia in many areas, including that Russia is the main supplier of weapons to the Vietnamese military, which also helps Vietnam exploit oil and gas in the East Sea (South China Sea) and played the role of balancing pressure from China and the United States.
From the beginning of the military modernization process from the mid-1990s until now, Vietnam has mainly purchased weapons from Russia, accounting for 81.6% of the total value of arms imports. The culmination was a contract supposedly worth two billion dollars to buy six submarines from Russia in 2009.
However, the value of weapons imported from Russia has decreased significantly in recent years, which Professor Thayer said is due to the US embargo against Russia after the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
The most recent significant arms purchase contract is a package of 64 T-90S/SK tanks that Vietnam signed with Russia in 2016.
With the poor performance of the Russian military, including the tank force on the Ukraine battlefield, plus the Western embargo, Russia’s weapons production capacity is strongly affected, and Vietnam will have to rethink its military modernization strategy.
“The 13th Party Congress taking place in January and February 2021, and before that, the Military Party Congress outlined a roadmap to modernize the Vietnamese army from 2020 to 2025, which modernize ahead of some military forces. Then there is the period 2025-2030, with the ambition to modernize the entire military force after 2030.
Vietnam is having problems because the Party Congress ends in February 2021 when on February 24, 2022, Russia invades Ukraine. That is a real problem. Now we have to ask the question: How will Vietnam modernize its military?”
Vietnam needs a strong military to deal with the threat from China, and according to Professor Thayer, a hindered military modernization will put Vietnam at a disadvantage.
Although Russia’s position on the world political chessboard and weapons production capacity has been significantly reduced, according to a former professor of the University of New South Wales, Vietnam has not yet dared to give up the relationship. Vietnam, according to him, has not yet fully assessed the consequences of the war in Ukraine on Russia and thinks that it is still too early to change its foreign policy.