Amid growing defense ties between the two countries, Laos has ordered delivery from Russia of an unknown number of fighter jets and from 20 to 30 army tanks, with sources in Laos saying the purchase will be made with concessions to run mining and other projects in the developing Southeast Asian country.
The YAK 130 fighter planes and T-72B White Eagle tanks will be on hand for celebrations of Lao National Army Day on Jan. 20, sources told RFA’s Lao Service, with one source adding that only four planes were requested at first.
“However, we expect that the Lao government will buy more jets,” RFA’s source, an airline official, said.
“The cost of these heavy weapons has not been published yet, but Laos doesn’t pay Russia in cash,” the source added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Also speaking to RFA, a source close to a high-ranking Lao military officer said that the total cost for the planes and tanks will come to “many millions of U.S. dollars, with the Lao government giving Russia the concession of mining and development projects in exchange.”
Russia is already surveying mines in Laos for investment purposes, sources say, though local media report that Russian teams have also entered the country to help clear unexploded ordnance left behind from the U.S.-Vietnam War.
“Does it make sense that Russian soldiers would come here only to carry out a humanitarian mission?” RFA’s source asked, adding that from 1980 to 1989, Russian workers had carried out mining work along Route 9 in Savannakhet province in southern Laos.
“I was there too, and worked on those,” he said.
Laos is paying not only for jets and tanks, but for guns, bullets, and other equipment, RFA’s source said.
“And that doesn’t even include the costs for maintenance and for paying Russian trainers,” he said. “All of this costs a huge sum of money.”
Traditionally, the Lao military does not like to reveal the true cost of such purchases, using “national security” as an excuse for its silence, another source said, also speaking on condition his name not be used.
“But in fact, the military officers in charge of logistics are now getting richer,” he said.
Reported and translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.