Southeast Asia stands at several forks in the road at once. The US–China rivalry is evolving in a way that makes both powers less and less tolerant of Southeast Asian states’ balancing strategies. Domestic political developments in several countries of the region are becoming less predictable, too, with social, political, and cultural rifts coming to the surface.
In the absence of prominent leaders, the current multilateral architecture is struggling to perform its mission and avert the region’s disintegration. Russia maintains constructive and friendly – albeit not always deep – relations with all countries in the region and seeks to derive concrete economic benefits from its ties with them, including in pursuit of its domestic development goals. The Russian stance in Southeast Asia is not akin to those of the US or China and is closer to the Indian position. As such, Moscow refrains from assuming extra responsibilities and does not want to become entangled in unsolvable conflicts. Instead, it follows the logic of supply and demand, while relying on multilateral institutions and established rules.
The current model of Russia–Vietnam relations can be described as transitional, moving from the exclusive partnership of the 1980s to the next meaningful phase. Today, bilateral relations are dominated by the traditional spheres and vectors inherited from the Cold War period. But the shoots of a new model and a new agenda are also working their way through. The task at the present stage is to make the best possible use of their historical inheritance, reinforced by Russia and Vietnam’s current strategic goals for their own development and for the future structure of Southeast Asia and the entire Asia-Pacific region (APR).