29.05.2024 Author: Ksenia Muratshina

Russia and Laos: How friends meet

Russia and Laos

President of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic Thongloun Sisoulith, a graduate of the Russian Herzen State Pedagogical University, visited a festive Moscow, where he attended the Victory Day parade and held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

On 9 May, at the Victory Parade in Moscow, among the foreign heads of state accompanied by Vladimir Putin, there was a modest and friendly man wearing glasses. The man smiled, spoke in Russian, followed the events with sincere interest and respect, and proudly wore a St George’s Ribbon on the lapel of his coat. This was the President of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Secretary General of the Central Committee of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, Thongloun Sisoulith.

The development of relations with the countries of South-East Asia is still not given enough attention in our information space. That is why it is worth making a brief excursion into the history of Russian-Laotian friendship.

Laos has an ancient and original culture. In the course of its history, this culture has had to depend on Chinese, Vietnamese, Khmer and Thai (Siamese) rulers, then on the French colonial empire, and during the Second World War – on the Japanese occupation. Laos only achieved modern statehood in 1953 after a long national liberation struggle against French rule. The newly independent state then experienced civil war and attempts by the United States to interfere in its internal affairs. The Vietnam War also affected its territory. As a result, it was not until December 1975 that the Lao PDR was proclaimed. The country embarked on a course of building socialism.

Some history of our relationship

The Soviet Union recognised an independent Laos as early as 1960. Since then, the two countries have shown solidarity throughout the history of their relationship. Laos remembers the support of the USSR in the struggle against colonialism, for the right to independence and its own modern statehood, and later the crucial and constant technical, military and personnel assistance from the Soviet side.

Despite the enormous economic difficulties caused by the collapse of the USSR, the two countries have managed to maintain close, sincere and friendly relations in recent history. In the early decades of the 21st century, the scale of cooperation gradually began to grow again. Both Russian exports to Laos (including machinery and equipment, chemical industry products, woodworking, printing) and total trade turnover between the two economies show an upward trend. Russian companies are active in Laos, investing in areas such as hydropower, mining, telecommunications and information technology. In 2023, the Lao delegation was one of the most representative at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, where negotiations were held on expanding cooperation.

Russia and Laos have good prospects in military and other spheres 

One of the important areas of cooperation between Russia and Laos is security relations. This includes the training of Laotian servicemen in Russian military educational institutions, military-technical cooperation, the LaRos joint military exercises (held since 2019), the activities of the Laotian Air Force Training Centre, which was built by Russia and will be opened in 2020, and joint work within the framework of the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting.

Russia has given Laos a helping hand in solving such a colossal problem as mine clearance. Many unexploded munitions remain in the country from the Vietnam War. Russian specialists have been working in Laos since 2018, during which time thousands of deadly remnants of US bombing, mostly cluster bombs, have been found and defused. At the same time, Russia is training Laotian soldiers in demining and transferring the necessary equipment to the Laotian side. Demining in Laos is complicated by difficult climatic conditions and the fact that some munitions are buried up to 2.5 metres deep. Hundreds of hectares of completely cleared land are even being returned to agricultural use, which is particularly necessary for the Lao economy.

Russia supports the socio-economic development of Laos, including by funding UN programmes in the country.  In 2018, the Russian side sent humanitarian aid to Lao citizens affected by the devastating floods. During the most severe early waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia delivered humanitarian supplies of personal protective equipment, tests and vaccines to Laos.

In 2016, Vientiane hosted the highly successful Days of Russian Culture in Laos festival, and in 2023, Days of Russian Cinema will be held for the first time. Links have been established between public organisations – political parties, youth associations, contacts between mass media. Over the years of cooperation, more than 8,000 Laotian specialists have been trained in our country. By the way, T. Sisoulith himself is a graduate of the Russian Herzen State Pedagogical University. The Russian language is widely studied in Laos. The Russian Embassy, the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo) and the Russian World Foundation regularly organise events dedicated to Russia and its culture.

In 2022, the Lao side erected two monuments to Soviet pilots who selflessly delivered aid to Laos during the Vietnam War. These monuments have become symbols of friendship between the Russian Federation and the Lao PDR and respect for the history of our relations.

In the international arena, the two countries stand in solidarity with the idea of defending a multipolar and equal world. Laos has joined the Group of Friends for the Defence of the UN Charter formed with the active participation of the Russian Federation, has repeatedly voted with Russia against anti-Russian resolutions imposed by the West, and has supported Russian initiatives, including such important initiatives as combating the glorification of Nazism and neo-Nazism, combating cybercrime, and ensuring international information security. In addition, the Lao side promoted Russia’s dialogue with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

At this stage, Laos is interested in the activities of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the BRICS group. Its participation in their work would be logical, as well as the participation of all Asian and African countries that see the prospects of both associations and understand the importance of cooperation between states that advocate an independent course, multipolarity and the preservation of their values and traditions in political, socio-economic and cultural development. In the future, Russia is interested in developing cooperation between Laos and the Eurasian Economic Union.

If you don’t have a mate, find one, but if you do, keep one

During his May visit to Moscow, T. Sisoulith personally congratulated V.V. Putin on his election victory and noted that Russia is developing despite Western pressure and helps “develop a multipolar world so that all countries are in justice, prosperity and peace.” Laos is well aware of the value of political and economic sovereignty and an independent foreign policy. Despite the insulting label of one of the “least developed countries” imposed on it by the United Nations, the Lao PDR continues to follow its own path of development chosen by its people, and is absolutely right in this aspiration. In this country, they keep an honest faith in socialism, think strategically in economic development, adhere to such a reliable and time-tested tool as state planning, have not only five-year plans for the national economy, but also a vision for a longer term. I would like to wish the Lao comrades success in this for many years to come. Russia also values this friendship. You can always rely on us.


Ksenia MURATSHINA, PhD in History, Senior Researcher at the Centre for the Study of Southeast Asia, Australia and Oceania of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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