The State of the Russian-Vietnamese Strategic Partnership

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The survey presents organizers, participants and the main themes of the discussions on the state of the Russian-Vietnamese strategic partnership, held in Moscow by RAS IFE and in Hanoi by the Institute of European Studies of VASS in early December 2021. It analyzes the reports on the state and perspectives of bilateral cooperation in the crucial spheres, such as political, military-technical, socio- economic, scientific-technical, cultural and educational ones. The evaluation was of objective character: the experts noted both the achievements and the shortcomings, showed the existing hardships and explained their causes. Criticism prevailed; the common conclusion (while the approaches of the sides differed appreciably) was the acknowledgement of still existing serious problems in the crucial spheres of relations (especially in trade-economic relations), the determination of their current stage, which is the durability test in the conditions of the two worlds’ growing confrontation. The discussions in RAS and VASS have contributed to the search of the ways to rise strategic partnership of Russia and Vietnam to the appropriate level.

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A survey of the discussions at RAS IFES and VASS

On 1 December 2021, the Center for Vietnam and ASEAN Studies (IFES RAS) organized a discussion on the state of the strategical partnership of Russia and Vietnam, in connection with the SRV President Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s visit to the RF (29.11–1.12.2021) and the 20th Anniversary of the Declaration of Strategic Partnership between the RF and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Leading Russian specialists on Vietnam from academic and educational institutions participated in the discussion held in a mixed format. Each of the twelve speakers described the main problems in every field of bilateral cooperation and answered the Round Table moderator’s [V.M. Mazyrin, Chair of CVAS, D.Sc. (Economics), Professor], experts’ and attendants’ questions.

Unlike former sessions of this kind, Vietnamese experts did not participate in this one. Such a condition engendered incomplete evaluations, but at the same time, the discussion was more intense. The identical seminar “Russia Viewed by Vietnamese Russian Philologists: Humanitarian Aspects” helped correct the situation. It was organized by official representatives of the RF in the SRV (the Embassy, the Russian House) and by the Institute of European Studies of VASS and was held on December 10. It permitted the sides to compare their comprehension of the current situation and the causes restraining the progress in the cooperation. Vietnamese government officials of high rank (of the Ministries responsible for crucial spheres of interaction) were the speakers.

The representatives of analogous Russian departments showed no interest in the discussion at IFES; such an attitude is typical of Russian practical institutions to the academic community of Vietnamese studies. G.S. Bezdetko, recently appointed the RF Ambassador in the SRV welcomed the participants of the Round Table in absentia (Fig. 1). He noted that “Russia and Vietnam maintain political dialogue at the highest level, and the current visit of the Vietnamese President to our country confirms this fact”. Having established the fact that now the conditions of interactions of the sides significantly differ from those in the Soviet era, the Ambassador estimated it to be a stimulus for the RF to increase its competitiveness and seek new points of growth.


Fig. 1. RF Ambassador in the SRV G.S. Bezdetko welcomes the participants of the Round Table.

Photo by IFES RAS


The first session discussed the cooperation in political and military-technical spheres.  E.V. Kobelev, the Leading Researcher at IFES RAS, positively estimated the political dialogue between the two countries, in particular at the highest level, and the efficiency of the signed agreements, but he acknowledged that the relations of Russia and Vietnam are not being strengthened and maintained in every sphere (Fig. 2). He gave examples of the extension of problem areas of the partnership and unresolved issues, which hinder its development. At the same time, he noted that the sides pay great attention to the crucial spheres, the most important for the bilateral relations at the high level.


Fig. 2. E.V. Kobelev at the Round Table

Photo by IFES RAS


The experts described the foreign policy of their countries and their situation on the world scene. Thus, Pham Quang Minh, the former rector of Hanoi University, noted the growing role of the Russian Federation in the Asia-Pacific region, the perspectives of consolidating its position of world power. Also, he compared the Russian comprehension of the “Greater Eurasian Partnership” conception and the needs of the SRV international integration.

Professor V.N. Kolotov, Head of the Chair of Far Eastern Countries History of Saint- Petersburg State University, established the decline of Russia’s importance for Vietnamese society.

In particular, he made the conclusion that in Vietnam (unlike our common perception) there have appeared political forces, social layers which are incited against the maintenance of our relations. The new elites, the departure of Russian-speaking leaders who had contacts with Russia, and the emergence of the new ones, who got their education in the West, led to the formation of new pressure groups, such as trade and industry, information, and political ones and others. Their weight depends on the value of commodity turnover with appropriate countries, but Russia does not enter even the top ten for this indicator. V.N. Kolotov noted that the bilateral relations are influenced by anti-Russian rhetoric in Vietnamese mass media and the re-orientation of Vietnam’s foreign policy in interests of security to the US. The like negative in Russian press was emphasized by G.P. Trofimchuk, Chairman of the Expert Council of the Workshop of Eurasian Ideas Fund, who showed “partial and sometimes a historically false description of current Vietnam’s life and its history” in it.

Having discussed Russia’s position of non-interference into territorial disputes in the South China Sea (in Moscow G.M. Lokshin, Leading Researcher of IFES RAS was the speaker), the experts acknowledged that it is perceived negatively in Vietnam, like the non-recognition of Hague Tribunal’s decision in favor of the Philippines. Thus, the conclusion was made that the confrontation in the SCS complicated Russian-Vietnamese relations. Researchers and practitioners in the SRV supported the multilateral regulation and international “coercion of China to peace”, while their opponents in Moscow approved Russia’s decision to distance itself from the conflict in the SCS. Nguyen Chien Thang, Director of the Institute of European Studies (IES) believes that due to different approaches to the conflict in the SCS and China, it will be difficult for Russia to enhance its role in SEA without meeting Vietnam’s and ASEAN desires to regulate this conflict.

P.Yu. Tsvetov, Associate Professor of the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, having established the fact of similarity of the RF and the SRV positions on the world scene, acknowledged that they are far from being similar in all the problems of the world and regional development, also in those sensitive for Russia (for example, recognition of the Crimea, actions in Syria). The expert welcomed the Mutual Declaration of Nguyen Xuan Phuc and

V.V. Putin adopted the result of the negotiations and analyzed it, having noted that the sides expressed a negative attitude to the establishment of new military-political blocks and the application of sanctions. But it is known that virtually Hanoi condemns neither the Western campaign against Russia nor the establishment of such semi-military structures like Quad and AUKUS against China. Continuing the theme, E.A. Kanaev, Professor of Higher School of Economics, called the US initiatives “politicization of not only regional relations, but also of global problems” and explained the motives of Hanoi’s support of American initiatives. Also, he proposed the decline of the central role of ASEAN in the region at the background of the establishment of new military-political blocks in APR with US participation. On the contrary, Vietnamese experts see the threat to the ASEAN- centricity principle in the architecture of the relationships in the region when China enhances its positions in SEA and EA. E.A. Kanaev agreed that Hanoi’s balancing between the powers cannot be called the non-alignment policy and acknowledged the US and SEA actions to impact negatively the Russian-Vietnamese relations.

At the end of the first session in Moscow, V.B. Kashin, Leading Researcher of HSE evaluated the state of military-technical cooperation of the RF and the SRV. The expert noted that there are good perspectives in this field due to the fact that Vietnam’s army is provided with Russian armaments by more than 70% (the experts in Hanoi say it is up to 90%). “The SRV implements an ambitious task of creating a modern military-industrial complex, closing on Vietnam’s territory as many industrial military-type chains as possible, to use them as a catalyst of civil high-tech production. Russia is ready to assist Vietnam by transmitting military technologies”, V.B. Kashin said. The expert explained the essence of our cooperation in the sphere of maritime security and showed that it is not the exclusive one, while the US tries to oust Russia from this sphere.

The participants of both sessions discussed in detail the cooperation in socio-economic and scientific-technical spheres having evaluated it as lagging behind the potential and level of the strategic partnership. Explaining the causes of this situation, Phan Quang Minh said that often mutual decisions adopted at the high level are not adequately and fully implemented by appropriate departments and enterprises.

M.Yu. Golikov, former Trade Representative of Russia in the SRV (Fig. 3), noted the growth of mutual commodity turnover in the period after the free trade agreement between the EAEU and Vietnam had been signed (in 2017–2021 from USD 3–4 to USD 6 billion) having acknowledged it insufficient at the background of the SRV trade-economic connections with the leading partners. The Vietnamese colleagues agreed having mentioned that the aim of USD 10 billion set in 2010 has not yet been achieved. There was noted the growing trade deficit from the RF, the increase of the share of commodities and foodstuff while decreasing the export of highly processed products. The experts also acknowledged that the results of the agreement on FTA were lower than their expectations and they explained the causes in too many restrictive non-tariff measures and delays with the implementation of additional protocols (from the SRV side).


Fig. 3. M.Yu. Golikov at the Round Table.

Photo by IFES RAS


Thus, Nguyen Khan Ngoc, Deputy Chief of the Department of European and American Markets of the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the SRV, paid attention to some difficulties to expand mutual deliveries, insufficient transport capacities, and their expensiveness among them (having acknowledged the reluctance of Vietnamese companies to use the railroad through the PRC to speed up deliveries to the RF), as well as the threat of blocking mutual settlements by Washington through the SWIFT system (in response the sides began to form their own mechanisms, which do not allow the payments in national currencies, so far), the negative impact of Western sanctions on the activity of trade relations.

The analysis of the investment practice showed significant differences in the assessment of the volumes of reciprocal capital flows, but the causes of this phenomenon were not explained.

V.M. Mazyrin, CVAS Chair (Fig. 4), provided data on the SRV FDI in the Russian economy (USD 3 billion) while Russian investments in the Vietnamese economy are virtually stagnant and there prevail (as far as their quantity is concerned) small and medium projects in them. Nguyen Thanh Lan, a researcher of IES, acknowledged the state of investment cooperation considered, but she noted its low volume. The data differ while the main investments from the RF side come on the base of intergovernmental agreements, also those begun some decades ago (like AO Zarubezhneft, and GK Petrovietnam).


Fig. 4. CVAS Chair V.M. Mazyrin at the Round Table.

Photo by IFES RAS


Vu Thuy Trang, Director of the Center of Russia and the CIS countries of the same Institute, having evaluated the relations of dialogue partnership of Russia and ASEAN in general, saw difficulties of the economic integration of Russia into SEA, and insufficiency of Russia’s efforts towards it. This opinion was commented by V.M. Mazyrin, who had added that even at the more successful direction of investments into the SRV (oil and gas) Russia experiences restrictions both natural (the decrease of oil reserves) and artificial ones (bans of the Chinese and American sides). As a result, the event of 2021 was the sale of Rosneft assets, being the leading company in this branch. In this connection there were assessed the opportunities to deliver oil and liquefied gas were, taking into account the progress made in this sphere by the US companies. Novatek, the Russian gas operator, who had signed the promising memorandum with Petrovietnam, may become their rival.

Russian experts in Moscow, commenting on the perspectives of the extension of economic interrelations and evaluating our interests, came to the conclusion that only great strategic projects can stimulate the real rise of trade and economic cooperation. They are the establishment of current pipeline and railroad networks in the SRV and their extension towards the ASEAN countries, AES construction, and the exploration of outer space.

Moscow unlike Hanoi also discussed the interchange of human resources. M.N. Khramova, Deputy Director of the Institute of Demographic Research considered the cooperation in this sphere unsatisfactory, as it is reflected in downtrends of every kind of Vietnamese migration to Russia. S.V. Ryazantsev, the Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Director of the same Institute, told why the RF cannot hold Vietnamese specialists who have got higher education here. Also, he acknowledged that the sides are not ready for a serious threat of outflow of climate migrants from the SRV to the RF if they appear in masses. At the same time, S.V. Ryazantsev considers it useful to cooperate on the issues of demographic development, despite different tendencies and the composition of the population of the two countries, being of opinion that our assistance is on-demand in Hanoi.

N.V. Shafinskaya, an Assistant Rector of RANEPA, Ph.D. (Politics), critically evaluated the training of personnel speaking Russian and Vietnamese in Russia and in Vietnam. She concluded that all the participants of promotion of the Russian language in the SRV are un-coordinated and cannot achieve the appropriate result, but in Russia the quantity of Vietnamese specialists is small and they are used inefficiently due to the lack of state demand and allocation. The expert confirmed that therefore the turn of Russia towards the Orient is, so far, badly prepared and organized; it requires more efficient pursuing of soft force policy in Vietnam. She proposed measures to correct shortcomings in the training/employment system of specialists in Vietnamese culture and in Russian philology.

Also, at the seminar in Hanoi Nguyen Thi Thu Dat, Director of the Hanoi branch of the Pushkin State Russian Language Institute, emphasized problems of learning Russian in schools and universities of the SRV. She acknowledged that, though this process is intensified, the retention of the essence of the Russian language in the country has no strong base, i.e., no clear perspectives. The experts evaluated the situation with training Vietnamese students in the RF, considering the increase of annual quotas from the Russian side up to a thousand. At the same time, the deterrent has been determined – the desire of Vietnamese families, even the former graduates from Soviet universities, to educate their children in Western countries.

Examples and opportunities of the cooperation of Russia and Vietnam in the sphere of science and technology offered A.Ya. Sokolovsky, Professor of FEFU. In his opinion, there is no significant progress in the relations of the two countries in the Far East, but the perspectives of their development remain. FEFU is still the education leader for Vietnamese students and for Russian Vietnamists. The University fortifies mutual academic links, also by means of translations, issuing books by Vietnamese authors. But the quantity of Vietnamese labor force in FEFD does not increase, and joint ventures are mainly small or medium.

E.V. Nikulina, Researcher of CVAS, spoke on other joint projects in humanities, having added the information of issuing translations of Vietnamese literature in Russia. As for problems of cultural exchange, she noted its extremely limited, sporadic character, objective difficulties of its intensification. The Russian side does not show a special desire to promote products of culture to the SRV, and the local population, especially the youth, is not interested in it and experiences the growing influence of the West. At the seminar in Hanoi among other speakers Nguyen An Ha, the former Director of IES VASS, expressed being sorry about it, while Russian cultural treasures are of great importance for Vietnam. They spoke on the loss of appropriate support in their society due to the left of older generations who had got an education in the USSR.

At this background, a new perspective direction of the cooperation has become the production in Vietnam of Russian vaccine Sputnik-V for the solution of relevant tasks to struggle against the coronavirus epidemic. The experts confirmed the application in Hanoi of the first commercial vaccine batch (739 thousand doses) and the existing reality to produce 40 mln doses by June 2022. They emphasized the agreement recently reached in Moscow on deliveries of medical equipment and supplies and on joint researches in the field of medicine.

The discussion of the state of Russian-Vietnamese relations with the participation of the researchers in Moscow and Hanoi should be recognized ripened and useful. It has shown both strong and weak points of the two countries’ cooperation, discovered the existing hardships, generally mentioned by the President of the SRV in his discourse with the President of Russia in the Kremlin. The participants fulfilled the set task to evaluate the existing problems and by this means to assist in finding the way to raise the strategic partnership of the RF and the SRV at the appropriate level. They unanimously called to develop and fortify it, leaning for support on the traditions of the friendship of the Russian and Vietnamese peoples, in accordance with the realities of the current international situation and new directives of the leaders of the two countries, recently proposed during their meeting in Moscow. The experts are waiting for new “breakthroughs” in the economic sphere, as was declared at the meeting of the presidents.

Discussions in Moscow and Hanoi received media coverage:


About the authors

Vladimir M. Mazyrin

Institute of Far Eastern Studies RAS; Lomonosov Moscow State University

Author for correspondence.

D.Sc. (Economy), Chair of Center for Vietnam and ASEAN Studies, IFES RAS; Professor of the Institute of Asian and African Studies

Russian Federation, Moscow; Moscow


Supplementary files

Supplementary Files
1. Fig. 1. RF Ambassador in the SRV G.S. Bezdetko welcomes the participants of the Round Table.

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2. Fig. 2. E.V. Kobelev at the Round Table

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3. Fig. 3. M.Yu. Golikov at the Round Table.

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4. Fig. 4. CVAS Chair V.M. Mazyrin at the Round Table.

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Copyright (c) 2021 Mazyrin V.M.

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