Vietnam Chases Secret Russian Arms Deal, Even as It Deepens U.S. Ties

Defying U.S. sanctions, a Vietnamese government document lays out a plan to buy Russian weapons, which officials see as a way to upgrade its military as a hedge against China.

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Hannah Beech

By Hannah Beech

Sept. 9, 2023

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“When President Biden is greeted by Vietnamese officials in Hanoi on Sunday, he will be celebrating the prospect of adding another friend in Asia to a coalition that his administration hopes will side with American interests rather than China’s and Russia’s.

During Mr. Biden’s visit, the two nations will underscore their commitment to “increase peace, prosperity, and stability in the region,” a White House press statement said. Nguyen Phu Trong, the top Vietnamese leader, is expected to confer upon the United States an upgrade of strategic ties. The Biden administration has reciprocated early, glossing over the Communist Party of Vietnam’s intensifying human rights crackdown.

But even as the United States and Vietnam have nurtured their relationship over recent months, Hanoi is making clandestine plans to buy an arsenal of weapons from Russia in contravention of American sanctions, an internal Vietnamese government document shows.

The Ministry of Finance document, which is dated March 2023 and whose contents have been verified by former and current Vietnamese officials, lays out how Vietnam proposes to modernize its military by secretly paying for defense purchases through transfers at a joint Vietnamese and Russian oil venture in Siberia. Signed by a Vietnamese deputy finance minister, the document notes that Vietnam is negotiating a new arms deal with Russia that would “strengthen strategic trust” at a time when “Russia is being embargoed by Western countries in all aspects.” “