Like the United States, Russia has been pursuing its own more limited version of a Pacific pivot. Most often President Vladimir Putin has led this campaign, with frequent visits to the region, but Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev took charge of the effort last week with a pair of two-day visits to Thailand and Vietnam.
In its approach to Asia, Russia has strived to strengthen relations with China while also pursuing other partnerships to maximize Moscow’s bargaining leverage and hedge against problems in any one relationship. Russia has long-standing ties with India and has sought to improve relations with Japan, although the Ukraine crisis has thwarted recent outreach efforts to Tokyo. North Korea has also offered new opportunities for Russian engagement in Asia, with North Korean dictator Kim Jung-un expected to make his international debut in Moscow in a few weeks. Medvedev’s trip last week now highlights a focused effort to seek improved ties with certain Southeast Asian countries that Moscow sees as important economic and security partners.
Vietnam has become an important Russian energy client, arms buyer and security partner. The two countries established a strategic partnership in 2001 and upgraded the relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2012. Bilateral political ties have strengthened through regular reciprocal leadership visits by high-ranking delegations. Putin paid a visit to Vietnam in November 2013, following a visit by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to Russia in May 2013. Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang also toured Russia in July 2012.