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3 highlights of Putin’s visit to Vietnam

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A day after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia’s state visit to North Korea seemed focused solely on military issues, including a dramatic revival of a Cold War-era mutual defense pact, the Russian leader was far less provocative in Vietnam.

Vietnam values ​​its relationship with the United States, which would be threatened if Putin made fiery remarks against Washington on its soil. So despite Vietnam and Russia’s deep military ties and shared communist history, the Hanoi leader’s talks with Putin focused on strengthening ties in areas such as trade, education, energy and technology. The Russian leader kept a low profile and made no official remarks.

While it fell short of a major breakthrough, Russia’s show of solidarity with Vietnam was intended to lend Putin a veneer of international legitimacy at a time of growing isolation from the West.

Here are three key takeaways from his visit.

Unlike North Korea, which is viewed in the West, Vietnam has been courted by the United States to curb China’s growing global influence. In the past year alone, Hanoi has hosted U.S. President Joe Biden and China’s top leader Xi Jinping.

Putin’s visit to Vietnam is part of an effort by the Russian leader to show he remains accepted by world leaders despite Western attempts to isolate him over his invasion of Ukraine, a point he underscored late last year when he visited the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, two key U.S. partners in the Middle East.

A 21-gun salute was fired in his honor at the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, a key historical site in the heart of the capital. Vietnamese schoolchildren waved Russian and Vietnamese flags and lined Hanoi streets as Putin’s motorcade passed, as is customary. It was Putin’s fifth visit to the country since 2001, but his first since his full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Vietnam and Russia have long-standing ideological ties. In 1950, the Soviet Union was one of the first countries to recognize diplomatic relations with the then Democratic Republic of Vietnam, or North Vietnam.

Nguyen Phu Trong, chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam, told Putin that as someone who once lived and studied in Russia, he still “misses Russia, this great and beautiful country, with great enthusiasm,” according to Vietnam’s Thanh Nien newspaper.

For decades, Moscow has been Vietnam’s largest donor, providing military assistance as Hanoi battled France and the United States — a fact Putin took pains to remind Vietnam on Thursday.

“As you pointed out, the Soviet Union provided effective assistance to the Vietnamese people in their heroic struggle against the French and American invaders and contributed to the peaceful construction of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” Putin said, with Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh standing beside him.

Vietnam has not expressed support for Russia’s war on Ukraine, but has also been careful not to alienate Moscow.

Hanoi skipped a Ukrainian peace summit in Switzerland last weekend. It also abstained from voting on four UN resolutions condemning Russia’s attack on Ukraine and voted against a motion to remove Russia from the UN Human Rights Council.

Unlike his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un the day before, Putin refrained from making fiery public remarks against the United States.

Sitting across from Kim on Wednesday, Trump blasted Washington as hegemonic and imperialist, seeking to impose its will on the world through its satellite states. He signed a defense agreement pledging to aid North Korea in the event of war and threatened deeper cooperation with Kim’s military.

On Vietnam, Russian leaders stuck to non-controversial rhetoric about trade and historical ties that seemed carefully crafted to target their Vietnamese counterparts.

Vietnam, which upgraded its relations with the United States last year, has been wary of Putin’s visit. Before Putin’s visit, Washington officials made clear their displeasure, saying no country “should provide Putin with a platform to promote his war of aggression or normalize his atrocities.”

Vietnamese media focused on the visit, focusing on relations and the two countries’ long history as friendly nations dating back to the Cold War.

“Whatever Russia offers, I don’t think Vietnam will accept it and give the impression that we are allied with Russia to be anti-Western,” said Ng Thi Ha, a senior fellow at Singapore’s Yusof Ishak Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

While Russia has long supplied arms to Vietnam, it rarely discusses weapons purchases or defense issues publicly. Andrei R. Belousov, Mr. Putin’s new defense minister, had accompanied the Russian leader on his visit to North Korea but then appeared to abandon the trip, with the Russian Defense Ministry on Thursday releasing photos of him touring a Russian military medical center.

Hanoi says its highest-level bilateral ties are with seven countries: Russia, China, the United States, India, South Korea and Australia. Having a relationship with one of them can check and balance the others.

Both Russia and Vietnam have gained huge benefits from the development of oil and gas resources in the South China Sea. Putin has promised to supply oil and gas products to Vietnam for a long time.

Huong Le Thu, deputy director of Asia at the International Crisis Group, said Putin’s visit demonstrated Vietnam’s ability to “maintain good relations with all players despite the confrontation and competition among the great powers”.

Nguyen Phu Trong, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, calls this approach “bamboo diplomacy,” meaning that Vietnam can leverage the flexibility of bamboo branches to balance its various relationships with major powers.

“This is centered on Hanoi’s interests, not anyone else’s,” Ms. Huong said.

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