The Russian Navy has announced plans to return to the Cam Ranh Bay naval base in Vietnam eight years after it pulled out from the strategic foothold in South East Asia.

The Russian naval command has drawn up a proposal for the government to resume the lease of naval base at Cam Ranh, the Interfax news agency quoted a source in the naval headquarters as saying on Wednesday.

“If political decision is made, the Russian Navy is ready to rebuild the base within three years,” the unnamed official told the news agency. “Cam Ranh is needed to provide support to Russian warships on anti-pirate missions in the Pacific and Indian Oceans,” said the official.

Vietnam war

The Russian return to Cam Ranh will impact strategic equations in the region. Cam Ranh was the main U.S. Air Force base during the Vietnam war, and in 1979 the Soviet Union leased the base gratis for 25 years turning it into its largest naval base abroad. In 2002 Russia gave up the lease after Vietnam asked it to pay an annual rent of $300 million.

The Russian report comes less than a week before U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates begins an official visit to Vietnam amid warming military relations between the two countries. Washington has been seeking access to Cam Ranh for years to monitor Chinese naval activity, but Vietnam has stalled out of fear of antagonising China.

Submarine deal

By contrast, Hanoi will have no such problems granting docking rights to Russia, which is a strategic ally of both China and Vietnam. In recent months, Vietnam has signed contracts with Russia to buy six Kilo-class submarines and 12 Su-30MK2 fighter planes. Later this month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will visit Vietnam to attend an ASEAN summit.

India has also displayed interest in the Cam Ranh naval base.

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