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    OpinionsPresident Putin interested in improving relations with ASEAN through Vietnam

    President Putin interested in improving relations with ASEAN through Vietnam


    By Girish Linganna

    After visiting North Korea, Russian President Vladimir Putin went to Vietnam. This makes Vietnam the only country to have hosted state visits from the leaders of China, the U.S., and Russia—the 's three biggest military powers—in the past year.


    On Thursday 20th June afternoon, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Vietnamese President To Lam met at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi. They stressed the importance of peace and highlighted their countries' strong relationship, according to state media. The TuoiTre newspaper quoted Putin saying, “Strengthening our comprehensive strategic partnership with Vietnam is a priority.” Additionally, Reuters reported that Putin stated, “Russia values discussions with ASEAN.”


    ASEAN stands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional organization comprising ten Southeast Asian countries that promotes political and economic cooperation and regional stability. The member countries are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.


    State-run media announced that both parties have agreed to sign 11 cooperation agreements. These documents cover areas like , nuclear technology , disease prevention, oil exploration, and justice. Leading Russian companies involved include Rosatom (a state-owned nuclear firm), Novatek (a natural gas company), and Zarubezhneft (a state-controlled oil company).


    Putin praised Vietnam for its “balanced approach to the Ukraine crisis” and its non-interference policy. He also mentioned that Russia has always supported the “brave fight of the Vietnamese people against foreign invaders.” Putin finished his two-day state visit and departed from Hanoi on Thursday night.


    Russia and Vietnam's relationship dates back to the Cold War. According to several analysts interviewed by Nikkei Asia, both countries are keen to demonstrate that they have security options beyond just China and the U.S. The meetings highlight Hanoi's special role as it tries to balance its relationships with both authoritarian countries and democratic rivals.


    Vietnam is one of the few countries close enough to Russia to host a rare visit from Putin, especially after the Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him and U.S.-led allies sought to isolate him. At the same time, Vietnam is close enough to these allies to provide aid to Ukraine and avoid condemning their sanctions, unlike Beijing. Relations with the U.S. are especially important for Vietnam because it is the country's largest export market. Last September, Hanoi elevated the U.S. to the highest level in its diplomatic ranking.


    Vietnam is also very important to the U.S. The State Department announced that Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Kritenbrink will visit Hanoi on Friday and Saturday, right after Putin's visit. This trip is meant to highlight the U.S. commitment to their partnership and to promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region, according to Reuters.


    Futaba Ishizuka, a researcher at the Institute of Developing Economies, said that Western countries might become more worried about Vietnam's foreign policy stance. Vietnam avoids using the word “war” when talking about Ukraine to show respect to Moscow and relies heavily on Russian weapons for its defense. While some doubt Russia's ability to sell more arms due to its involvement in Ukraine, others believe Russia needs the money.


    Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-YusofIshak Institute, said the main topic of discussion will be how Vietnam can get around Western financial sanctions against Russia to pay for Russian weapons, as reported by Nikkei Asia.


    North Korea and China have been accused of ignoring sanctions to trade with Russia. Following them, Vietnam is the third communist country in Asia to host Putin since the war began. This happens as the Group of Seven (G-7 Countries) considers more sanctions and increases pressure on China.


    Josh Kurlantzick, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Vietnam feels “torn” between Russia and Western-backed Ukraine because of its deep historical ties with both, dating back to the Soviet Union.


    LanAnh Hoang, a development studies professor at the University of Melbourne, said Vietnam's strong ties with Russia are strengthened by its migration history to the Soviet bloc. This includes orphans and students from the 1950s, as well as tycoons who later founded Vingroup and Vietjet after earning money in Russia during the economic changes of the 1990s.


    Vietnamese leaders have met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and called for an end to the conflict. They have also strengthened ties with the U.S. However, Vietnam, being a one-party state, keeps a certain distance from Washington. The U.S. wants Vietnam to improve human rights and assist in countering Beijing's influence.


    Khang Vu, a fellow at the Notre Dame International Security Center, said that Russia does not threaten Vietnam's external security like China or its internal security like the U.S. He added that Moscow offers an alternative to these superpowers.


    The conflict between China and Vietnam over the South China Sea is growing, though it isn't as intense as China's tensions with the Philippines. If Vietnam gets too close to the U.S., China, which is also a “comrade” to Vietnam's Communist regime, will likely apply pressure. Russia helps Vietnam balance its diplomatic relationships with both Beijing and Washington.


    A U.S. State Department spokesperson told Nikkei that “We cannot ignore the clear violations of international law that Russia has committed in Ukraine.” They added that “no country should give Mr. Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression.”


    Russian foreign policy analyst Nikola Mikovic said that because of the situation in Ukraine, Moscow is not “able to supply Hanoi with any major weapons.” He said that Putin's visit appears to focus more on economic cooperation than on military matters. Over the past two years, Russia's foreign policy has shifted eastward to engage with all major non-Western countries.


    Kurlantzick said that Russia also wants the visit to demonstrate that it is not isolated. He said that Vietnam remains deeply grateful for the Soviet Union's significant support during the long Indochina wars. This gratitude is a major reason why Vietnam is conflicted about how to respond to the war in Ukraine. However, Vietnam also feels “uncomfortable” hosting a beleaguered Putin.


    Vu said that Hanoi “faces significant risks” because the U.S. is “upset about Vietnam hosting Putin.” However, this is unlikely to stop military cooperation between the countries. He said that if Vietnam and Russia sign any arms deals, it will indicate that, despite the poor performance of Russian weapons on the battlefield, Vietnam still wants to purchase them.


    Hoang noted that the two societies are closely connected. She said, “As Vietnam and Russia navigate the post-socialist era, their long-lasting and ongoing interactions between people show the strength and depth of their friendship.”


    The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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