Soviet Aid to North Vietnam

Soviet emphasis on military intervention began with Soviet aid to Cuba and Vietnam. Both countries faced confrontations against the United States. Military aid to Egypt, Syria, and Iraq was directed at Israel, considered an outpost of American imperialism. Soviet military aid to Vietnam began after the Second World War to assist Ho Chi Minh in his struggle against returning French rule. This aid continued after Vietnam divided. North Vietnamese-backed guerrillas tried to overthrow the South Vietnamese government using this aid. Estimates of the total cost of the Soviet Union's support to the North Vietnam government range from $3.6 billion to $8 billion [in then-year U.S. dollars].

North Vietnam initially ackMwledged the Soviet Union as leader of the "socialist camp" and accorded Moscow first place in its eulogies of the Communist countries. Since the rise of Communist China and the deterioration of Sino-Soviet relations, however,it has maintained the position, as did other Communist states, that all "socialist" states are equal and independent. Nevertheless, it acknowledges that the Soviet Union has been an important contributor of economic and military aid, especially since early 1965 when Moscow initiated measures to improve Hanoi's "defense potential."

The top leaders and other officials of the two governments had also consulted during visits to each other's capitals: President Ho Chi Minh in 1955 and 1957; Soviet Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan in 1956 and President Kliment Y. Voroshilov in 1957. At the 1960 Lao Dong Party Congress, Premier Pham Van Dong supported the Soviet Union's thesis on the possibility of avoiding open warfare with imperialist powers and on the tactical importance of peaceful coexistence with the West. For its part, the Soviet Communist Party representative declared his government's intention to broaden its cooperation with North Vietnam.

An agreement signed with Moscow in December 1960 assured Hanoi of Soviet economic and technical assistance; a similar Soviet pledge was made in an agreement signed in September 1962. Between 1961 and late 1964, Hanoi's relations with Moscow were generally cordial, although there were indications, especially after March 1963, that the Ho Chi Minh regime was inclined to agree with the militant position of Peiping in ideological disputes between Communist China and the Soviet Union.

Beginning in November 1964, relations with the Soviet Union took a new turn, evidently because of Moscow's avowed intention to render active support to the Hanoi regime in its political and military confrontation with the United States. On 17 November 1964, the Soviet Politburo decided to send increased support to North Vietnam. This aid included aircraft, radar, artillery, air defense systems, small arms, ammunition, food and medical supplies. They also sent Soviet military personnel to North Vietnam-the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Vietnam (DRVN). Some 15,000 Soviet personnelserved in Indo-China as advisers and occasionally as combatants. The largest part of the Soviet adviser personnel were air defense officers.

In February 1965 Soviet Premier Aleksei N. Kosygin visited Hanoi, accompanied by Air Chief Marshal Konstantin Vershinin, who was commander in chief of the Soviet air force and a deputy defense minister. A joint communique issued at the conclusion of his visit on February 10 announced that the two. governments had signed an agreement on measures for strengthening Hanoi's "defense potential." After returning to Moscow, Premier Kosygin said that his government had already taken necessary steps to implement the agreement. It appeared that the Soviet military aid consisted mainly of surface-to-air missiles (SAM's), jet fighters and technical advisers. In late March 1965 the Soviet Communist Party's first secretary, Leonid I. Brezhnev, announced that his government had been receiving "many applications" from Soviet citizens offering to serve as volunteers in Vietnam.

The Hanoi government received continued support from Moscow on the political, military and economic fronts. Moscow endorsed the peace proposals of both Hanoi and the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam. The Soviet Union, in agreements signed in July 1965 and December 1965, respectively, also pledged to give increased military and economic aid. In December 1965 the Soviet army newspaper, Red Star, reported for the first time that Soviet antiaircraft missiles had been supplied to North Vietnam. Still another Moscow pledge of military and economic assistance was made in an agreement signed in January 1966, when Aleksandr N. Shelepin, a member of the Soviet Communist Party Presidium and Secretariat, visited Hanoi.

The extent of Soviet aid, though never officially announced, was reported by various sources. In February 1966 the chairman of the Canadian Communist Party, Tim Buck, was quoted by Radio Djakarta as having said that some 5,000 North Vietnamese were being trained in the Soviet Union to become fighter pilots. This information was reported to have been obtained from President Ho Chi Minh while the Canadian Communist was visiting Hanoi in late 1965. The extent of the Soviet aid to Hanoi was estimated in some quarters to be "worth about half a billion rubles", ranging from rocket installations to planes, tanks and warships.

In March 1966 Le Duan, First Secretary of the Lao Dong Party, headed a delegation to Moscow to attend the twenty-third Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Communist China had boycotted this Congress. In his speech before the Congress, Le Duan declared that he had two fatherlands, North Vietnam and the Soviet Union, and thanked Moscow for its "huge and many-sided aid."

In August 1966 Soviet authorities confirmed that an undisclosed number of North Vietnamese fighter pilots. were being trained in the Soviet Union. In addition, Radio Moscow on October 2, 1966, announced for the first time that Soviet officers and specialists had been sent to North Vietnam to train antiaircraft units in the use of Soviet-made surface-to-air missiles. Nhan Dan announced in October that Hanoi had signed in Moscow an agreement on the new Soviet "nonrefundable" aid to Vietnam and an agreement on supplementary Soviet loans to Vietnam for 1967.

The USSR obviously had great anxiety over the sea supply route to North Vietnam -- the main channel for Soviet economic and military-support shipments to the DRV. The Soviets were concerned over U.S. bombing of DRV ports and over the possibility that the United States might take steps to close DRV ports by mining or blockade. Through repeated vigorous protests the Soviet Union sought to convey the impression that the USSR regarded access to DRV ports as important to Soviet interests.

It is possible that the Soviet navy, in the spring of 1967, was instructed to prepare contingency plans for a possible Soviet attempt to break a hypothetical US blockade of Haiphong - leaving implementation open as a matter for politburo decision. Czechoslovak Defense Minister Lomsky reported to the collegium of the Ministry that the Soviets had issued an order to the Soviet navy to provide escorts for Soviet merchant vessels in the eventthat Haiphong was blockaded or a Soviet vessel bombed in Haiphong harbor. This order also allegedly called for efforts to break any blockade, including steps to sweep minefields. Lomsky, who had just returned from Moscow, said that the Soviets had told him that they would resist any U.S. moves to prevent Soviet ships from going to Haiphong. The Soviet order was supposedly issued at a time when U.S. statements pointed to a possible blockade of Haiphong.

The Soviet Union indicated that some of the weaapons requested by the DRV had been denied. The CPSU document on Soviet military aid to Vietnam circulated among visiting foreign Communists in Moscow in November 1967, stated that "the USSR has speedily satisfied practically all the requests of the DRV for delivery of military equipment." The DRV did not receive the KOMAR or OSA-class guided-missile-firing patrol boats, which it wanted and, apparently, at one time thought it was going to receive. The failure to receive such boats must be particularly annoying to the DRV because, over the previous decade, the USSR had distributed KOMARs and OSAs to about a dozen countries around the world, including some whom the DRV must regard as far less deserving than itself.

Following the conquest of South Vietnam in 1975, Hanoi sought to retain the equilibrium of its wartime relations with both China and the Soviet Union, but mounting tensions with Beijing, culminating in the loss of Chinese aid in 1978, compelled Hanoi to look increasingly to Moscow for economic and military assistance. Beginning in late 1975, a number of significant agreements were signed between the two countries. One coordinated the national economic development plans of the two countries, and another called for the Soviet Union to underwrite Vietnam's first post-reunification Five-Year Plan. The first formal alliance was achieved in June 1978 when Vietnam joined Comecon.

Join the mailing list