Russia’s Putin arrives in Vietnam for final stop on two-nation Asia tour

Putin hails Vietnam for backing ‘a pragmatic way to solve the crisis’ in Ukraine in an op-ed released in advance of his visit.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin is set arrive in Hanoi on the heels of a trip to North Korea [Gavriil Grigorov/Reuters]

Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Vietnam for talks with the country’s leaders after concluding a defence pact with North Korea, Russian news agencies reported.

Putin’s aircraft touched down in Hanoi early on Thursday, the agencies reported. Vietnam is the final stop on his two-nation tour of Asia.

Ahead of his arrival, Putin praised Vietnam for its “balanced” stance on the Ukraine war and listed progress on payments, energy and trade in an opinion piece published in the newspaper of Vietnam’s Communist Party.

Putin applauded the Southeast Asian Communist-governed country for supporting “a pragmatic way to solve the crisis” in Ukraine, in comments published in the Nhan Dan newspaper on Wednesday.

Vietnam, which officially pursues a neutral foreign policy in its relations with major world powers, has not condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Putin plans to meet Vietnamese leaders on Thursday, on the heels of a trip to North Korea where leader Kim Jong Un promised “full support and solidarity” for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The two leaders signed a deal that included a mutual defence pledge, one of Russia’s most significant moves in Asia for years that Kim said amounted to an “alliance”.

Al Jazeera’s Yulia Shapovalova, reporting from Moscow, said local media have been portraying Putin’s visit to the region as one that is “resonating with the world”.

“They say the visits … have attracted close attention from the United States and the West as they could potentially affect the regional, geopolitical landscape,” Shapovalova said.

In the opinion piece, Putin, who is making his first visit to Vietnam since 2017 when he attended an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, said Russia and Vietnam also shared “similar assessments of the situation in the Asia-Pacific region”.

Vietnam’s position on the South China Sea differs from that of China, which claims the strategic waterway almost entirely as its own, including gas and oil fields in Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone where Russian companies extract oil and gas.

‘Strategic importance’

Putin said energy was “an area of strategic importance in bilateral cooperation” and cited Russia-Vietnam joint ventures on fossil fuels in the South China Sea and in northern Russia.

Gazprom also operates gas fields in Vietnam, he noted. Russian energy firm Novatek “plans to launch liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects in Vietnam”, Putin said without elaborating.

He also cited an initiative “to establish a Centre for nuclear science and technology in Vietnam” with the support of Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy giant.

About a decade ago, Vietnam suspended a plan to develop a nuclear power plant and it is unclear whether it intends to reconsider that position. South Korea and Canada are among countries that have proposed nuclear energy options to Vietnam, according to people familiar with the matter.

Putin also praised progress on finance and trade.

Settling payments between the two countries was made complex by Western sanctions on Russian banks, and the issue has long been a priority in bilateral meetings, officials have said.

Vietnam has historically been a big importer of Russian weapons.

Putin said transactions in roubles and Vietnamese dong accounted for 60 percent of bilateral trade payments in the first quarter of this year, up from more than 40 percent last year.

“Vietnam-Russia Joint Venture Bank plays an important role in ensuring reliable financial transactions,” Putin wrote, referring to a Hanoi-based lender set up in 2006.

He also noted that bilateral trade was increasing.

However, Vietnam’s trade with Russia remains limited and the United States and China are Hanoi’s main trading partners.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies