Historical Dictionary



Soviet aid to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) never matched that provided by the Chinese communists, let alone that provided by the Americans to the French. However, many of the arms the Chinese supplied to the Vietnamese were of Soviet origin. There are several reasons explaining the lower level of Soviet assitance to the DRV during the Indochina conflict. For one, Joseph Stalin had always been much more focused on Europe than on Asia. This was particularly the case in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Second, following the Chinese communist victory in 1949, the Soviet leader turned over the leadership of the Asian revolutionary front to the Chinese communists led by Mao Zedong. Lastly, as Ilya Gaiduk has shown, Stalin did not believe that Asian societies possessed the required conditions to make communism work. Nevertheless, between 1950 and 1954, the Soviet Union did channel some military, medical, economic, and educational assistance to the Vietnamese communists based in northern Vietnam. This aid went overland through the Chinese, however. The Soviets never attempted to challenge the French navy or its American backers during the Indochina War. The exact size of Soviet aid is hard to pin down.

One Vietnamese study of the question confuses Soviet aid with Chinese-supplied Soviet weapons. For example, although the DRV received seventy-six 37 mm Soviet-made anti-aircraft guns, and 12 H6 multitube rocket launchers (Katyusha), K50 submachine guns, and some 700 vehicles (including Molotov trucks), the Chinese, not the Soviets, provided most of them to the Vietnamese from their own stockpiles. The Soviets did provide important though undetermined amounts of antibiotics and quinine (apparently several tons). In July 1951, Radio Moscow began a daily broadcast in Vietnamese in favor of the DRV. All of the Soviet assistance provided between 1950 and 1952 was provided free of charge (khong hoan lai). On 5 July 1952, DRV authorities signed an agreement with the Soviet Union by which the latter provided an undisclosed loan to the Vietnamese to purchase Soviet goods. Again, the exact nature of the materials provided remains unclear. We do know that from 1952 the Soviets provided cultural assistance via the DRV embassies in Moscow and Beijing. This included the shipment of 308 films, 60 current events films (bop phim thoi su), several thousand records, 3,640 cameras, and 24 film projectors. This aid contributed to the development of the DRV’s photography branch and to efforts to promote the communization of the state, army, and society. From 1953, the Soviets also reopened the doors of their higher education institutes. Until the end of the Indochina War, over 200 Vietnamese traveled to the Soviet Union to study a wide variety of subjects, including medicine, agricultural development, electrical engineering, chemistry, veterinarian sciences, economics, and construction. Between July and September, the DRV received via Plan Z 11,546 tons of weapons and equipment and 1,116 motor vehicles of all types. This was the remaining amount that the Chinese and Soviets had budgeted to the DRV for 1954, but had not delivered before the Geneva Accords put an end to the war in July of that year. See also AID, AMERICAN; AID, CHINESE COMMUNIST; AID, MALAYSIA.