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Stand by me? Vladimir Putin's remaining allies

Henry-Laur Allik
June 20, 2024

Russian leader Vladimir Putin's recent visit to Vietnam reinforced a pattern that has emerged since he invaded Ukraine: His allies these days are those who rule by force.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (r) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un smile during their meeting at Pyongyang-Sunan International Airport outside Pyongyang.
In times of trouble, Vladimir Putin can still rely on fellow autocrats like Kim Jong Un of North KoreaImage: Gavriil Grigorov/dpa/picture alliance

After multiple Western sanctions against Russia and an International Criminal Court's arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin for the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian leader's international movements have been limited.

Putin, who won a fifth term as president in a March election that was neither free nor fair, has since made five international visits: to Belarus, Uzbekistan, China, North Korea and now to Vietnam.

Although support for Russia on the international stage means risking sanctions, Putin can still count on several stalwart and outspoken allies. DW has compiled a list of Russia's key supporters — those Putin can still rely on, and from whom he can call in favors if necessary. The list reveals just how internationally isolated Russia is.


Main trade partner China announced a "no limits" partnership with Russia before the invasion of Ukraine and has since doubled down on that, despite the negative impact it might have on China's economy and international image.

China's stance on the Ukraine war is far from neutral. Its alleged diplomatic efforts to convince countries not to attend the recent Swiss peace summit on Ukraine, to which the aggressor, Russia, was not invited, is just one indication. China's absence was also noticeable.

During the conflict, the Chinese have done their best to keep Russia's economy afloat as well as serve as an intermediate state for sanctioned military goods needed to keep the Russian war machine going.

Communist China sees Russia as a strategic partner to counter a world order set by the US and its allies. Putin visited China this May, and Xi Jinping went to Russia last year in a boost to already warm relations.

North Korea

North Korea, under leader Kim Jong Un, may be isolated from the world but is nevertheless one of the countries to have struck an alliance with Russia and Putin. It recently signed a defense partnership cementing what North Korean dictator Kim called a powerful "alliance," including the pledge of mutual defense should either country come under attack. 

Russia needs all the military aid it can get, and highly militarized North Korea is one country that will supply Russia, no questions asked. For Kim, any ally is better than no ally.

North Korea has been a foremost supporter of Russia's war in Ukraine. Whenever the United Nations tables resolutions aimed at condemning or stopping Russia's actions in Ukraine, North Korea has, unlike China, always voted against them.


Belarus, Russia's closest and most devoted ally — some might even say, a "puppet state" controlled by Russia — has multiple treaties and agreements with Russia, its biggest economic partner.

It's fair to say Belarus relies on Russia on many levels, from oil and gas imports to economic subsidies.

Russian troops and military equipment are regularly stationed in the country, and it was one of the staging grounds for Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko has allowed Russia to position nuclear weapons in the country.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko embraces Russian President Vladimir Putin
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has welcomed thousands of Russian troops to his countryImage: Pavel Byrkin/Sputnik/AP/picture alliance


Iran, like Russia, is under heavy international sanctions from Western countries. The two countries have a strong economic and military alliance. According to United States intelligence, Russia and Iran noticeably ramped up military cooperation after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Iran has supplied Russia with drones and ammunition, which are critical for Russia's military on the battlefront. One of Putin's rare international visits after the invasion in 2022 was to Iran.

After the death of Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi in May, Putin sent his condolences and said he saw him as a reliable partner who made a huge contribution to fostering friendly relations between the two countries.


Syria is Russia's stronghold in the Middle East, and the country's president, Bashar Assad, is a big fan of Putin. Syria relies heavily on Russian military support: Russia has established a regular military presence in the country to help its leader deal with the ongoing civil war.

Assad has said the war in Ukraine was a "correction of history and restoration of balance which was lost in the world after the breakup of the Soviet Union." Syria, similarly to Belarus and North Korea, has voted against UN resolutions aimed at persuading Russia to stop the invasion.


Vietnam and its communist government are the latest country to boost ties with Russia. The country signed a strategic defense agreement with Russia while Putin was on his Asia tour, during which he tried to improve Russia's international reach and discussed trade, defense and the war in Ukraine.

Vietnam has shied away from condemning Russian aggression in Ukraine. During the visit, Vietnam's president, To Lam, congratulated Putin on his March reelection and praised him for achieving "domestic political stability."

Putin said strengthening a strategic partnership with Vietnam was one of Russia's priorities.

The Russian strongman is also cultivating like-minded allies in South America, including in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Vladimir Putin stands surrounded by men in suits and one woman during his visit to Vietnam
Vietnam pledged to deepen ties with Russia during Putin's recent visitImage: NHAC NGUYEN/AFP/Getty Images


Cuba and Russia have longstanding, historical ties. The Caribbean island under the rule of a communist dictatorship has cooperated with Russia since the early days of the Cold War. They maintained and even increased their economic, cultural and military ties after the Soviet Union crumbled. 

Whenever Russia feels compelled to respond to US moves, it sends its military to Washington's backyard in a show of force reminiscent of the Cold War era. It did so earlier this month, when fleet of Russian warships reached Cuba ahead of planned military exercises in the Caribbean less than two weeks after US President Joe Biden authorized the use of US-supplied weapons in Ukraine to strike inside Russia

Russia's Kazan nuclear-powered submarine arrives at the port of Havana, Cuba.
A fleet of Russian warships, including a nuclear submarine, reached Cuban waters in June ahead of planned military exercisesImage: Arial Ley/AP/picture alliance


Nicaragua is another stronghold for Putin in the Caribbean and another authoritarian country he can rely on. The country's leader, Daniel Ortega, has allowed Nicaragua to be a military outpost for Russia in Central America, inviting Putin's troops into the country with open arms in 2022. 

Ortega tends to go along with everything Russia says. Along with the already mentioned countries, Nicaragua also voted against the UN resolution to stop the war in Ukraine. 


Venezuela is a key ally for Russia and its biggest trade and military partner in Latin America. Under Nicolas Maduro's authoritarian rule, Venezuela has expressed strong support for Russia and its actions around the world. 

And that support is reciprocal. When a presidential crisis broke out in 2019, Russia stood behind Maduro's authoritarian regime and vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for new presidential elections in Venezuela.  

More recently, Russia and Venezuela announced they would boost cooperation in oil and gas production when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited the country in late February. 

This story was first published on June 20, 2024. It was updated on June 24, 2024 to include Vladimir Putin's allies in Latin and Central America.

Edited by: Lucy James, Cristina Burack, Rob Mudge

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