Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Russia: A Military Base at Cam Ranh Bay?

Background Briefing:
Russia: A Military Base at Cam
Ranh Bay?
Carlyle A. Thayer
February 20, 2017
[client name deleted]
On October 7, 2016 Reuters reported, “Russia is considering plans to restore military
bases in Vietnam and Cuba that had served as pivots of Soviet global military power
during the Cold War (
Has there been any recent movement on Russian plans for Cam
ANALYSIS: Cam Ranh Bay is a very large bay that accommodates a military port, special
facilities where Russia is assisting Vietnam to integrate its Varshavyanka (or Kilo)-class
conventional submarines, and a commercial facility, Cam Ranh International Port.
Vietnam has a defence policy of three no's: no foreign bases on Vietnamese soil, no
alliances with foreign countries, and no using a second party against a third party.
While the third point may be honoured in the breach more than in practice, the other
two no's are strictly observed.
All foreign countries, with the exception of Russia, are permitted one friendly military
port visit a year and this can include two or more warships at the same time. All Russia
has to do is give prior notice that it wishes to visit Cam Ranh Bay. Russian visits are
usually ships returning from anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden. Two years ago
Russia based aerial refuelling aircraft at the military airbase at Cam Ranh. These
refuelled Russian bombers that flew close to Guam. The U.S. protested. It is unclear
whether this is still the case and U.S. diplomats have made no further mention of this.
A Vietnamese source responded to a question from me with the rather elliptical words
"our guests are no longer with us."
Cam Ranh International Port is a commercial facility offering ship repair to civilian as
well as military ships. Since opening it has received naval visits from Singapore, Japan,
India, France, the United States, China and Australia.
Russian military commentators have called for a return to Cam Ranh on several
occasions, including the source you cite. Vietnam invariably makes its three no's policy
clear. In other words, Vietnam will not give Russia a military base in Vietnam. It should
be recalled that during the Cold War when the Soviet Union has a large military base
at Cam Ranh, they denied it and said it was "a material supply point."
Thayer Consultancy
ABN # 65 648 097 123
Two other points. First, although Vietnam remains heavily dependent on Russia for
big ticket military equipment and weapons as well as Russian logistics, I can find no
evidence that any major arms deals were signed in 2016. It could be that finance is a
problem; absorbing the Kilo submarines is expensive. Vietnam is in the market for a
ground strike aircraft and is reportedly looking at the Sweden's Grippen, a South
Korean fighter, the US F-16 and the Eurofighter. Vietnam is also trying to acquire the
India-Russia joint BrahMos cruise missile. India is willing but Russia has demurred
Second, and possibly related to the first point, Russia has taken China's side on the
South China Sea dispute insofar as Russia has denounced the Arbitral Tribunal that
heard the case against China brought by the Philippines. Public comments were made
by Foreign Minister Lavarov as well as Putin himself. China may have put pressure on
Russia not to agree to sell Vietnam the BrahMos. The Chinese and Russian navies
conducted joint exercises in the South China Sea last September. Given these
underlying tensions I doubt Vietnam would be amenable to giving Russia greater
military access to facilities in Vietnam without some substantial quid pro quo.
Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Russia: A Military Base at Cam Ranh Bay?,”
Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, February 20, 2017. All background briefs are
posted on (search for Thayer). To remove yourself from the mailing list
type, UNSUBSCRIBE in the Subject heading and hit the Reply key.
Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and
other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially
registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.

No comments: