Moscow tries to counterbalance Chinese influence in Laos
Russian-Laotian friendship goes back a long way, a legacy of Moscow’s ties with the local communist regime. Thanks to its infrastructure projects, Beijing now plays a dominant role in the country. Nonetheless, Russia and Laos want to renew trade and military collaboration.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – The recent visit to Laos by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov focused on the “China factor”.
Beijing plays a dominant role in the small Southeast Asian country, above all through the construction of strategic infrastructures.
The Chinese are currently building a railway that will connect the Laotian capital Vientiane to Kunming, in the Chinese province of Yunnan, a US$ 7 billion project that is going ahead despite the pandemic.
Laos, like other Chinese partners, is becoming an “eternal debtor” to China.
To counterbalance the influence of its powerful neighbour, Laos is seeking Russian support; Moscow however lacks the wherewithal it had during Soviet times, and can hardly compete with China for control of the country.
Despite the huge distance that separates Russia from Laos, relations between the two countries have always remained very close and friendly.
Minister Lavrov met with Laotian Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh and President Thongloun Sisoulith on Thursday without translators, a legacy of 60 years of close ties between the Lao People's Democratic Republic and its “Russian brothers”, the USSR first and now the Russian Federation.
At the start of the visit, Lavrov and his Laotian counterpart Saleumxay Kommasith submitted themselves to the traditional photo op. The two officials took off their masks and warmly hugged exchanging compliments in Russian.
Before starting his career, Kommasith studied for six years at Moscow State University of International Relations and Lavrov was one of his professors.
In Soviet times, President Sisoulith studied at the Leningrad State Pedagogical Institute, now the Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia in St Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), and then headed the Russian language programme at the National University of Laos.
During his rise through the ranks of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party, the only party allowed in the country, he never missed an opportunity to visit his “second homeland”, Russia.
More than any other country, the Soviet Union helped the Lao People's Democratic Republic since its founding in 1975, supplying cars, fuel, food and consumer goods.
Kommasith thanked Russia for its help in the fight against COVID-19, which remains a major challenge in the country, albeit not as great as in other countries in the region.
Back in March Laotian authorities rolled out a major vaccination campaign administering the Russia’s Sputnik-V vaccine.
Although facing shortages at home and a new pandemic wave, Moscow pledged to send large quantities of the vaccine to Laos.
Lavrov and Laotian leaders also discussed ways to resume trade. But military cooperation topped the agenda.
A special group of Russian deminers cleared an airstrip from more than a thousand pieces of unexploded ordnance left by the US between 1964 and 1973.
Now Moscow will help Laos upgrade the military airfield, bringing new supplies and advanced military technologies, and providing training to the country’s armed forces.