Putin signs deals with Vietnam in bid to shore up ties in Asia

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (centre) and Vietnam's Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh (centre left) walk together the Government Office in Hanoi on June 20, 2024. - AFP

HANOI: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a series of deals with his Vietnamese counterpart To Lam on Thursday (June 20), during a state visit that comes as Moscow is seeking to bolster ties in Asia to offset growing international isolation over its military actions in Ukraine.

The two signed agreements to further cooperation on education, science and technology, oil and gas exploration and health. They also agreed to work on a roadmap for a nuclear science and technology centre in Vietnam.

Following the talks, Putin said that the two countries share an interest in "developing a reliable security architecture” in the Asia-Pacific Region based on not using force and peacefully settling disputes with no room for "closed military-political blocs.”

Vietnam's new President To Lam congratulated Putin on his re-election and praised Russia's "domestic political stability.”

Putin arrived in Hanoi early Thursday morning from North Korea, where he and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signed an agreement that pledges mutual aid in the event of war. The strategic pact that could mark the strongest connection between Moscow and Pyongyang since the end of the Cold War comes as both face escalating standoffs with the West.

Putin drove to Vietnam’s Presidential Palace on Thursday afternoon, where he was greeted by school children waving Russian and Vietnamese flags. There, he shook hands with and embraced Lam before a bilateral meeting and a joint briefing to the media.

He met Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh later in the afternoon and is also scheduled to meet Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong - Vietnam’s most powerful politician - and parliamentary chief Tran Thanh Man.

Russia is keen to maintain "close and effective cooperation” in energy, industry, technology, education, security and trade, said Russian Ambassador to Vietnam Gennady S. Bezdetko on Wednesday, according to Vietnamese official media.

The trip has resulted in a sharp rebuke from the US Embassy in the country.

Much has changed since Putin's last visit to Vietnam in 2017. Russia now faces a raft of US-led sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine. In 2023, the International Criminal Court in Hague issued an arrest warrant for Putin for war crimes. The Kremlin rejected it as "null and void,” stressing that Moscow doesn’t recognise the court's jurisdiction.

Putin's recent visits to China and now North Korea and Vietnam are attempts to "break the international isolation,” said Nguyen Khac Giang, an analyst at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

The US and its allies have expressed growing concerns over a possible arms arrangement in which Pyongyang provides Moscow with badly needed munitions for its use in Ukraine, in exchange for economic assistance and technology transfers that could enhance the threat posed by Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile program.

Both countries deny accusations of weapons transfers, which would violate multiple UN Security Council sanctions that Russia previously endorsed.

Meanwhile, Russia is important to Vietnam for two reasons, Giang said: It is the biggest supplier of military equipment to the South-East Asian nation, and Russian oil exploration technologies help maintain its sovereignty claims in the contested South China Sea.

"Russia is signalling that it is not isolated in Asia despite the Ukraine war, and Vietnam is reinforcing a key traditional relationship even as it also diversifies ties with newer partners,” said Prashanth Parameswaran, a fellow with the Wilson Center’s Asia Programme.

It is unlikely that Vietnam will supplying significant qualtities of weapons to Russia, because that would risk progress the country has made with Nato members on military equipment, particularly the US, which has donated naval patrol vessels and is in talks to supply aircraft, said Ridzwan Rahmat, a Singapore-based analyst with the defense intelligence company Janes.

"There is progress that you wouldn’t have imagined just 10 years ago,” he said.

"So I would imagine Vietnam wouldn’t want to take a risk, inviting the wrath of Western countries by supplying the Russians.”

Hanoi and Moscow have had diplomatic relations since 1950, and this year marks 30 years of a treaty establishing "friendly relations” between Vietnam and Russia.

Evidence of this long relationship and its influence can be seen in Vietnamese cities like the capital, where the many Soviet-style apartment blocks are now dwarfed by skyscrapers and a statue of Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union, stands in a park where kids skateboard every evening. Many of the Communist Party's top leadership in Vietnam studied in Soviet universities, including party chief Trong.

In an article written for Nhan Dan, the official newspaper of Vietnam’s Communist Party, Putin vowed to deepen the ties between Moscow and Hanoi and hailed Vietnam as a "strong supporter of a fair world order based on international law, on the principles of equality of all states and non-interference in their domestic affairs.”

He also thanked "Vietnamese friends for their balanced position on the Ukrainian crisis,” in the article released by the Kremlin.

Given Putin's international isolation, Vietnam is doing the Russian leader a "huge favour and may expect favours in return,” wrote Andrew Goledzinowski, the Australian ambassador to Vietnam, on social media platform X. He said that it would have been hard for Vietnam to decline the visit since Putin was already in Asia and Vietnam has historical ties with the former Soviet Republic, but said that it was unlikely that the two would be strategic partners again.

"Vietnam will always act in Vietnam’s interests and not anyone else’s,” he wrote.

Vietnam's pragmatic policy of "bamboo diplomacy” - a phrase coined by Trong referring to the plant's flexibility, bending but not breaking in the shifting headwinds of global geopolitics - is being increasingly tested.

A manufacturing powerhouse and an increasingly important player in global supply chains, Vietnam played host to both US President Joe Biden and the leader of rival China, Xi Jinping, in 2023.

Vietnam has remained neutral on Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But neutrality is getting trickier, with the US Embassy in Hanoi criticising Putin's visit, saying that "no country should give Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression and otherwise allow him to normalize his atrocities.” If Putin is allowed to travel freely it "could normalize Russia’s blatant violations of international law," the statement said.

Vietnam needs support from the US to advance its economic ambitions and diversify its defence ties, Parameswaran said. "It has to carefully calibrate what it does with Russia in an environment of rising tensions between Washington and Moscow."

Bilateral trade between Russia and Vietnam was at US$3.6 billion in 2023, compared to $171 billion with China and $111 billion with America.

Since the early 2000s, Russia accounted for around 80% of Vietnam's arms imports. This has been declining over the years due to Vietnamese attempts to diversify its supplies. But to entirely wean itself off Russia will take time, said Giang. - AP

Follow us on our official WhatsApp channel for breaking news alerts and key updates!

Vietnam , Putin , Russia , visit


Next In Aseanplus News

China’s Communist Party removes ex-foreign, defence ministers from top body
Jokowi insists on returning to Surakarta after term ends
Bursa Malaysia recoups earlier losses to end flattish
Vietnam president To Lam handed power as party leader seeks medical care
Ex-Perlis MB received cheques amounting to more than RM600,000 from travel agency, witness tells court
Jail for maid who stole and emptied bank account of 83-year-old employer with dementia
Man murdered, body torched over RM7,000 debt, say Kajang cops
K-pop boy bands losing allure as career choice
North India eateries told to display employee names in Hindu holy month, sparking anger
'I feel empty': Cambodians on Funan Techo canal route await fate

Others Also Read