The Soviet Union established military bases in Vietnam and Cuba during the Cold War. Specifically, the Soviets built a monitor station in Lourdes, Cuba, in the 1960s and a naval base in Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay in the 1970s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the two bases were under Russia's operation before being closed in 2001 and 2002 during Vladimir Putin's first term of presidency. However, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai A. Pankov said at the State Duma earlier this month that his department is exploring the possibility of reopening the two bases, with no further information given.
Russia's plan to restore military bases in Vietnam and Cuba is closely connected to the country's domestic and international situations, especially the deterioration of the Russia-US relationship.
Western countries have collectively imposed economic sanctions on Russia since the Ukrainian crisis and the annexation of Crimea. Refusing to yield to the economic pressure, Russia is displaying its military advantages in Ukraine, Syria and other war-torn places, and meanwhile its military products are quite popular in the international market.
Apart from underscoring Russia's strength and its status as a major power, restoring the military bases will help it hedge against the US.
The Moscow-Washington relationship has further deteriorated after the Syrian crisis. Putin suspended a treaty with the US on cleaning up weapons-grade plutonium at the beginning of this month, and submitted the draft plan to the State Duma for approval.
While the US has many partners in Europe and the Middle East, Russia, fighting alone in the region, is facing huge pressure, and has to open new fronts in Vietnam and Cuba by restoring military bases there.
Vietnam is situated in the South China Sea, a junction for navigation between the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. Cuba is the backyard of the US. Both countries have vital geostrategic significance. Reopening bases will distract US attention.
In addition, as Washington has managed to improve its ties with Hanoi and Havana in recent years, Russia's return to the two countries can help it counteract US influences.
Moscow's restoration of military bases will also divert the public's attention from its domestic problems. It is not easy to boost the economy and enhance people's livelihood in the short time, since it depends on a number of external factors.
In a traditional major power like Russia, being hard-line and resistant to the outside makes it easier for Putin to win public trust. Russia's military expansion hence will create conditions and opportunities for its economic reforms.
With traditional friendly connections and good relations currently with Vietnam and Cuba, it is technically easy for Russia to re-establish military bases there. Putin is good at security and diplomacy, and the restoration of the bases, which is not a fresh start of Russia's military involvement, is cost-efficient.
Russia has chosen a perfect time to announce its decision of seeking to reopen military bases in Cuba and Vietnam. There are only weeks before the US presidential election and there's not enough time for President Barack Obama to take any major actions to influence Russia's plan. It is still too early to conceive how the new president will respond to Russia. Even if Moscow was forced to quit some day, it could still use the bases as a bargaining chip to negotiate with Washington on other issues.
By opening new fronts in Vietnam and Cuba, Russia is seeking to improve its overall geostrategic situation and compel the US to make a concession. Russia takes a decisive move to seek to reopen military bases. The restoration depends on Russia's financial strength and determination, and also the responses from Vietnam, Cuba and other parties concerned.
Hanoi and Havana have not yet commented on Russia's plan. Whether Russia's military involvement in Vietnam and Cuba will be effective and benefit its national interests is a significant strategic issue. It remains to be seen whether Russia is just fighting a psychological and diplomatic war or truly intends to restore military bases in Vietnam and Cuba.
The author is director of Eurasian Studies Center and a professor at the School of Government, Beijing Normal University. firstname.lastname@example.org