The Soviet Union and Soviet bloc involvement with Laos originated as a secondary element in the East-West contest over the communist-led revolution in Vietnam and in the Sino-Soiet rivalry that this contest exacerbated. Even though the Laos subtheater was formally neutralized by the Geneva Agreement of 1962, the superpower involvement in Laos continued in the form of military supplies, advice, and diplomatic and propaganda support to the opposing sides up to the end of the war. The succeeding period of coalition government in Vientiane lasted fewer than two years and left the Soviets not only enjoying the prestige of supporting the winning party--the Marxist-Leninist LPRP, which by then had publicly revealed itself--but also holding the bag of vast economic development needs in a nation losing its most skilled persons across the border to the West. The Soviet Union had helped its friends prevail over the opponents of the revolution, but the Marxist-Leninist model for building up an overwhelmingly agricultural nation was not effective with the complaisant Lao peasantry.
Since 1989 aid from the Soviet Union and its successor states-- which once accounted for more than half the aid to Laos and approximately 1,500 technicians and advisers--has slowly dwindled. The memorial to Soviet efforts in Laos lies in dozens of projects such as bridges, roads, airports, hospitals, and broadcast facilities; in tons of military equipment, including MiG jet fighters and air transports; and in the hundreds of students with a faltering command of the Russian language, some of whom are trained for such jobs as railroad operator or circus clown, for which Laos has no market.
The Laotian leadership has resolutely sought to take up the slack among its previous bilateral and multilateral donors. By 1990 bilateral external assistance disbursed by Russia was down to 36 percent of the total, from a previous 60 percent; Hungary, the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Mongolia, and Vietnam contributed a mere 3.7 per percent. The number of student fellowships--usually 300 per year--decreased dramatically. The downward spiral continued as the Russians shifted their dwindling influence in the region to cooperation with the five permanent members of the UN in settling the war in Cambodia. And, in a further move away from dependence, the coming generation of national leaders felt anxious about obtaining useful education in the West for their children, even if they could still get by with Vietnamese and French.
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