Why does Russia's Putin visit Vietnam after North Korea? | News

Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks Thursday with Vietnam's leaders, hours after flying to Hanoi to visit an old ally that has positioned itself as an increasingly influential geopolitical player, courted by most major nations. Putin flew to Vietnam from North Korea, where he met with that country's leader, Kim Jong Un, on Wednesday.

The visit to Vietnam, among other things, is Russia's way of demonstrating that while Putin is treated as a pariah in the West, he still has political influence in the East, experts have said. Communist-led Vietnam will welcome Putin on a two-day visit, the Kremlin said.

The trip comes after the United States last week imposed more sanctions on Moscow and Western countries reiterated their unwavering support for Ukraine – now waging its third year of war against Russia – by accepting a $50 billion loan to Kiev at a meeting of the Group of Seven (G7). ) summit. The visit also comes days after the Ukraine peace summit held last weekend in Switzerland.

Why Vietnam?

While North Korea, where Putin met with leader Kim Jong Un on Wednesday, is itself a global pariah, heavily sanctioned by the United Nations for its nuclear and missile programs, Vietnam is a nation with which other countries important people want to have close ties.

Vietnam, a rising economy and a major clothing exporter, today counts the United States and other Western countries as important partners. India is a growing defense partner. Vietnam is also a pillar of Southeast Asia's efforts to balance ties with China, maintaining strong economic ties with Beijing while responding to perceived military threats from the Asian giant.

That backdrop makes Vietnam a destination of choice for the Russian leader. “Putin will hope that his visit to Vietnam signals that Russia is far from isolated in Asia amid its recent advances in the Ukraine war,” said Prashanth Parameswaran, a senior fellow at the Washington, DC-based Wilson Center. “…Though the visit has been pending for some time and Moscow's list of regional friends is quite short in practice,” added Parameswaran, who is also the founder of the weekly newsletter ASEAN Wonk.

What's on the agenda?

Vietnamese President To Lam welcomed Putin in Hanoi on Thursday and pledged to further strengthen ties, which he said would improve peace in the region and globally.

While very few details are available at the moment, their dialogue is expected to focus on strengthening their strategic partnership. In 2001, Russia became the first country to sign a strategic partnership with Vietnam.

Regional and global issues will also feature on the agenda, Russian state news agency TASS reported. After the meeting, a joint declaration will be adopted and several bilateral documents will be signed, she added.

Russia is Vietnam's largest arms supplier and military and security relations are expected to feature in the talks.

Le Kim Phuong, 60, and Le Thu Hong, 62, prepare Russian national flags ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Vietnam, in Hanoi, Vietnam. [Thinh Nguyen/Reuters]

How strong are the ties between Vietnam and Russia?

Ties between the two countries date back to the Soviet Union, which was Hanoi's largest arms supplier, a position Russia still occupies today.

Military support from the Soviet Union was critical to the Communist Party of Vietnam during key historical events, including the First and Second Indochina Wars against France and the United States.

However, the relationship between the two goes beyond their military scope.

“They were once on the same side of history, they shared the same ideology against Western capitalism and imperialism. And the legacy of shared ideology is still there,” said Huong Le Thu, deputy Asia program director at the International Crisis Group.

The Soviet Union used to host tens of thousands of Vietnamese students during the Cold War, including the current head of the Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong.

Hanoi's architecture also has a Soviet touch, such as the museum of modern Vietnam's founding father, Ho Chi Minh, and an imposing Vietnam-Soviet Friendship Cultural Palace, built in the late 1970s.

What is Vietnam's position on Ukraine?

Since the start of the war in 2022, Vietnam has officially adopted a neutral stance.

“Vietnam has tried to cultivate a careful balance in the Ukraine war between not disrupting ties with Russia as a traditional partner while also signaling that it takes principles such as territorial integrity seriously,” Parameswaran said.

As a victim of great occupying or invading powers – the United States, France, Japan and China – for the past 80 years, Vietnam considers the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a country to be inviolable as a sacrosanct principle.

The centrality of those principles is something Vietnam has repeatedly stressed at global meetings discussing the Ukraine war, in veiled criticism of Russia's war, although it has not condemned Moscow.

There is also a shared history and some degree of sympathy between Vietnam and Ukraine, which was also part of the Soviet Union, analysts say. Ukraine also used to supply weapons to Hanoi and cultural ties caused many Vietnamese to study in Ukraine forming a large diaspora. Vietnam has provided humanitarian aid to Ukraine through international organizations during the war.

However, Vietnam skipped the Ukraine peace summit last week and abstained on four UN General Assembly resolutions condemning the Russian invasion of its neighboring country. He also voted against removing Moscow from the UN Human Rights Council.

“Vietnam guides its foreign policy based on its historical legacies and its own interests; it wants to show that it is capable of welcoming Chinese, American and Russian leaders and that it is okay to be friends with anyone; it is multi-dimensional diplomacy,” Le Thu said. aggregate.

The peak of that flexibility, which some experts called “bamboo diplomacy,” came last year when U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the country. Bamboo, which grows widely in Vietnam, is known for its ability to bend as needed – without breaking – which serves as a metaphor for the country's foreign policy.

In this group photo distributed by Russian state agency Sputnik, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (right) and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a welcoming ceremony at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang on June 19, 2024 - Russian President Vladimir Putin landed in North Korea early on June 19, the Kremlin said, kicking off a visit aimed at boosting defense ties between the two nuclear-armed countries. while Moscow continues its war in Ukraine.  (Photo by Gavriil GRIGOROV / POOL / AFP) / -- EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS IMAGE IS DISTRIBUTED BY THE RUSSIAN STATE AGENCY SPUTNIK --
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a welcoming ceremony at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang. [Gavriil Grigorov/Sputnik via AFP]

What is the United States' response to Putin's visit to Vietnam?

The United States is one of Vietnam's main trading partners and has not taken Putin's visit well.

“No country should give Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression and allow him to normalize his atrocities,” a spokesman for the US embassy in Hanoi told the Reuters news agency. “If he can travel freely, that could normalize Russia's flagrant violations of international law,” they added.

The visit to Vietnam is a rare occasion for Putin to travel outside Russia since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against him for alleged war crimes in Ukraine. The order means that any ICC signatory must arrest the Russian president if he enters his territory. Vietnam is not a member of the ICC.

What is China's role in all this?

As the war in Ukraine enters its third year, Moscow's political and economic dependence on China has deepened. This is relevant to Vietnam, which has a dispute with China in the South China Sea. Beijing claims jurisdictional rights over maritime resources in certain Vietnamese territories rich in oil and gas reserves.

This is where Russia comes into the picture. Two of its energy companies are involved in upstream projects in some of the disputed areas.

“Vietnam is concerned that, as a result of Russia's growing dependence on China, Beijing could use its influence over Moscow to undermine Vietnamese interests. This would include increased pressure on the Kremlin to withdraw its state-owned energy companies,” Ian Storey, a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, wrote in a research paper in March.

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