Vietnam leaders host Putin in nod to old ties, risking ire of West

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Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Vietnam early on Thursday for talks with the country’s Communist leaders on the final stop of his two-nation tour of Asia after concluding a defence pact with North Korea.

Putin’s aircraft touched down at Hanoi’s airport, where he was met on a red carpet by Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Tran Hong Ha and top party diplomat Le Hoai Trung.

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In an opinion piece timed for his visit, Putin applauded the Southeast Asian Communist-ruled country for supporting “a pragmatic way to solve the crisis” in Ukraine.

Vietnam, which officially pursues a neutral foreign policy it calls “bamboo diplomacy” in its relations with world powers, has abstained from condemning Russia’s attack on Ukraine, a stance that Western countries view as too close to the Kremlin

As well as praising Vietnam for its “balanced” stance on the Ukraine war, Putin listed progress on payments, energy and trade between the countries in the article published in Vietnam’s Communist Party newspaper Nhan Dan.

Although both North Korea and Russia face international isolation, Vietnam has built careful alliances with the United States and the European Union.

“President Putin’s visit to North Korea and Vietnam is to demonstrate that Western attempts to isolate Russia are not working and that Russia has partners in Asia,” said Carl Thayer, an expert on Vietnam security at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.

Russia was hit with US-led Western sanctions after it invaded Ukraine in February 2022 in what Moscow calls a “special military operation”. In March 2023, the Hague-based International Criminal Court’s issued an arrest warrant for Putin over alleged war crimes in Ukraine, charges he denies.

Neither Vietnam nor Russia are members of the ICC.

The Southeast Asian country will be the third nation Putin has visited, after China and North Korea, since he was sworn in for a fifth term in May.

Vietnam has been gearing up for a full state welcome for Putin, his first visit since 2017 and his fifth in total.

Putin is due to meet Communist Party leader Nguyen Phu Trong, state President To Lam and Prime Minster Pham Minh Chinh.

The Russian leader will also attend wreath laying ceremonies, including at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, housing the embalmed corpse of Vietnam’s founding leader.

The countries have historically close ties and shared Communist roots. Tens of thousands of cadres studied in the former Soviet Union during the Cold War, including the current head of Vietnam’s Communist Party Trong.

“President Vladimir Putin is a person who has made many contributions to Vietnam-Russia relations. He always has good feelings and concern for Vietnam and values relationships with Vietnam’s senior leaders,” Ministry of Defence newspaper Quan Doi Nhan Dan said in an article.

Key partner the United States, which upgraded diplomatic relations with Hanoi last year and is Vietnam’s top export market, opposed Putin’s visit.

“No country should give Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression and otherwise allow him to normalise his atrocities,” a spokesperson for the US embassy in Hanoi said this week.

Russia has historically been Vietnam’s major military supplier, so any potential arms deals will be closely watched.

Putin is also expected to announce agreements in sectors including trade, investment, technology and education, two officials told Reuters this week, although that was subject to change.

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