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Russian President Vladimir Putin. Picture: SPUTNIK/SERGEI GUNEEV/REUTERS
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Picture: SPUTNIK/SERGEI GUNEEV/REUTERS

Hanoi — Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Hanoi this week, multiple officials said, highlighting Communist-ruled Vietnam’s loyalty to Russia and triggering a US rebuke.

The visit follows Hanoi avoiding a Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland last weekend, while sending its deputy foreign minister to a Brics meeting in Russia earlier last week.

Putin, who was sworn in for a fifth time just more than a month ago, is expected to meet Vietnam’s new president, To Lam, and other leaders during the two-day visit to Hanoi on Wednesday and Thursday, officials said.

The US, which upgraded relations with Hanoi last year and is Vietnam’s top trading partner, reacted harshly.

“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 when asked about the impact of the visit on ties with the US.

“If he is able to travel freely, it could normalise Russia’s blatant violations of international law,” the spokesperson added, referring to the invasion of Ukraine that Putin launched in February 2022.

Vietnam’s foreign ministry did not reply to a request for comment.

The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) issued in March 2023 an arrest warrant for the Russian president over alleged war crimes in Ukraine. Vietnam, Russia and the US are not members of the ICC.

The EU, another key economic partner for Vietnam, did not comment before the visit, but it expressed dissatisfaction last month over Hanoi’s decision to delay a meeting with the EU envoy on Russian sanctions — a delay that officials linked to preparations for Putin’s visit.

From Hanoi’s perspective, the visit is meant “to demonstrate that Vietnam pursues a balanced foreign policy that does not favour any of the major powers”, said Ian Storey, senior fellow at the Singapore-based Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, after the country hosted Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in recent months.

In his first state visit to Vietnam since 2017 and his fifth in total, Putin is expected to announce agreements in sectors including trade, investment, technology and education, two officials said, though that was subject to change.

However, discussions with Vietnamese leaders are likely to focus on more sensitive issues, the officials said, declining to be identified as the matter was not public.

Those talks would include arms, of which Russia has historically been Vietnam’s top supplier; energy, with Russian companies operating in Vietnamese gas and oilfields in areas of the South China Sea claimed by China; and payments, as the two countries have struggled to carry out transactions because of US sanctions on Russian banks, one of the officials said.

It is unclear whether announcements on these topics will be made.

“The main issues relate to shoring up economic and commercial ties, including arms sales,” said Carl Thayer, a senior expert on Vietnam security at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.

Putin and Vietnam’s leaders are likely to agree to work out rouble-dong currency transactions via the banking system to enable payment for goods and services, he said.

Reuters

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