MOSCOW – Russia is eyeing the prospects for reestablishing a military presence in Vietnam, where a major Soviet naval base was once located, Russia’s Tass news agency reported Friday, citing a senior defense official.
“We are working on this, we do see this problem,” Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov was quoted as telling State Duma legislators when asked about the prospects for a return by the military to Vietnam, as well as to Cuba.
Tass reported that Aleksey Chepa, the deputy chairman of the State Duma’s international affairs committee, has been pushing the idea.
“It is necessary to consider the issue of our presence in other regions of the world,” Chepa was quoted as saying. “I believe that it would meet Russia’s national interests to restore our military bases in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa.”
Cam Ranh Bay, a deep-water port in central Vietnam that was home to a major U.S. base during the Vietnam War that ended in 1975, was leased rent-free to Soviet Union in 1979 for a period of 25 years.
During the 1980s, the Vladivostok-based Pacific Fleet maintained a significant military presence at Cam Ranh Bay, making it the largest Soviet base outside the country, but it substantially downsized its presence in the 1990s before withdrawing completely in 2002.
The base had allowed the Soviets — and subsequently the Russians — to project power in the southern Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
In 2014, Moscow and Hanoi signed an agreement to streamline procedures for Russian vessels to access Cam Ranh Bay for repairs and maintenance, as well as crew rest and recuperation, similar to one Russia concluded in the past with Syria.
Under the new agreement, Russia has reportedly stationed IL-78 tanker aircraft at a nearby airfield that has been used to refuel nuclear-capable TU-95 strategic bombers that have resumed patrols in the West Pacific, including near Japan and the U.S. territory of Guam.
In March last year, the U.S. State Department said it had “urged Vietnamese officials to ensure that Russia is not able to use its access to Cam Ranh Bay to conduct activities that could raise tensions in the region.”
Those remarks prompted Russia’s Foreign Ministry to issue a statement insisting that defense cooperation with Vietnam is “not targeted against any third parties” and “poses no threat to peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific Region.”
Vietnam has said it favors deeper defense cooperation with Russia, its chief supplier of arms needed as deterrence against China with which it has long-running maritime territorial disputes.
At the same time though, it has made clear that it is firmly against forming military alliances directed at other countries, and will not allow any foreign military bases to be established on its territory.
In recent years, the United States, which normalized relations with Vietnam in 1995, has also sent naval ships to Cam Ranh Bay, which is being developed as an international port, as have other countries.
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