29 November 1971: North Vietnam Signs Agreement with the Soviet Union for Continued Support

The relationship triangle between the Soviet Union, China and North Vietnam had been cultivated since the resistance to French colonial rule from as early as 1948 and during the First Indochina War. All actors in their own rights, each with a set of motives, ambitions and goals, the individual relationships between the three countries were sometimes complementary but also fractious. In an effort to advance their influence in Indochina, the Soviet and Chinese governments often vied against each other for closer ties with North Vietnam.

By the middle of 1971, the Soviet embassy had come to recognize a significant shift in the North Vietnamese government’s foreign policy, which had become favourable to Moscow. In a political letter to Moscow in May, Ambassador Ivanovich Shcherbakov analysed the shift as having two indices. First was the decision of the Vietnamese in 1968 to broaden their strategic approach to the war to incorporate military, political and diplomatic forms of struggle (apparently connected with their decision to enter into negotiations with the United States at the Paris Peace Accords). Second was the fact that the Vietnam Workers’ Party “understands and apprehends more the policy of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.” Later in his report, the Soviet ambassador noted that “by leaning toward the Soviet Union, the Vietnam Workers’ Party has endured the crude pressure of the Chinese leaders.”[1]

As such, formal and informal visits by Soviet delegations became an almost standard practice by the end of 1971. Building on previous visits on 14 April and 3 October 1971, a delegation headed by Soviet President Nikolai Podgorny paid an official visit to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) on 29 November of the same year. During the visit, negotiations took place on questions of further friendly cooperation between the United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) and the DRV. The sides also considered other international problems of mutual interest.

Soviet President Nikolai Podgorny visits North Vietnam.

The effect of these regular meetings can be seen in the increasing investment of military and economic aid into North Vietnam from 1971 to 1974 by the Soviet Union. In 1971, military aid amounted to $175 million and economic aid totalled $375 million. By the end of 1974, both of these figures had risen to $220 million and $645 million respectively. The total trade turnover between the USSR and the DRV rose from $178.7 million in 1971 to $310.5 million in 1974.[2] This strengthening of ties would have a crucial impact on Vietnam’s position in Southeast Asia after the Second Indochina War as, in 1978, Vietnam would join COMECON and sign a treay of friendship with the Soviet Union, two acts that would put further strain on Vietnam’s relationship with China and facilitate the Third Indochina War.


[1] As quoted by Stephen J. Morris in The Soviet-Chinese-Vietnamese Triangle in the 1970s: The View From Moscow, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University Working Paper No. 25.

[2] Captain Lynn A. Harris, USAF, Soviet Relations With Indochina in the 1970s, August 1976, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, Report No. CI 77r11.

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