Why is Putin present in Vietnam?

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ended a state visit to one ally, North Korea, and turned to another, Vietnam, arriving early Thursday in hopes of strengthening partnerships. important in the region as he waged a protracted war in Ukraine.

Mr. Putin’s war in Ukraine has isolated him from the West, and his need for ammunition to fight that war has pushed him closer to North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-un. The two leaders bonded over their common historic rival the United States and on Wednesday. restore the Cold War-era commitment to common defense between their countries.

In Vietnam, by contrast, Putin met with officials who have recently forged deeper ties with Washington. But Moscow has long been the main source of weapons for Hanoi and Mr. Putin really wants to maintain that position.

This is Mr. Putin’s fifth visit to Vietnam and continues Mr. Putin’s trip last year. President Biden And President Xi Jinping of China, the two leaders sought assurances from Hanoi that the country would not take sides with the other.

For Vietnam, Mr. Putin’s trip will be an opportunity to strengthen relations with Russia, Vietnam’s most important defense partner. Although relations with the United States have been upgraded, Vietnam still remains Look for secret paths last year to buy Russian military equipment in contravention of US sanctions.

Thursday morning, in typical scripted fashion, Vietnamese students – waving both Russian and Vietnamese flags – lined the streets of Hanoi as Putin’s motorcade passed by. He is welcomed by Newly appointed President of VietnamTo Lam hugged him.

Afterwards, Mr. Putin was given a 21-gun salute at Thang Long Imperial Citadel, an important historical site in the center of the capital. The military band performed the national anthems of both countries. According to Vietnamese state media, the two leaders will hold a press conference after the talks end.

Washington reprimanded Hanoi for inviting the Russian leader, saying: “No country should give Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression on the one hand and allow him to normalize his behavior on the other. his brutality”.

This week, Mr. Lam told Russia’s local envoy that Hanoi “always considers Russia one of its top priority partners in its foreign policy.”

Here are things to know about the relationship between Moscow and Hanoi.

In 1950, the Soviet Union was one of the first countries to grant diplomatic recognition to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, or North Vietnam. For decades, Moscow has been Vietnam’s biggest donor, providing military aid when Hanoi was fighting against France and the United States.

The defense relationship has strengthened many ties between the two countries, which over the years also share a common communist ideology. Mr. Putin came to Vietnam with new Defense Minister Andrei R. Belousov, emphasizing security as the focus of the visit.

According to Nguyen The Phuong, who researches Vietnam’s military issues at the University of New South Wales in Australia, Russian equipment accounts for about 60% to 70% of Vietnam’s defense arsenal. Russia has provided Vietnam with coastal defense missile systems, 6 Kilo-class submarines, fighter aircraft and many other types of lethal weapons.

According to Mr. Phuong, almost all of Vietnam’s naval ships are of Russian origin. He added that Russian T-90 tanks, the major weapon most recently purchased by Vietnam in 2016, are the backbone of Vietnam’s armored forces. This means that Vietnam will still depend on Russia in the coming years.

But the West’s imposition of sanctions on Moscow has increased concerns in Hanoi about Russia’s reliability as a supplier, and made it increasingly difficult for Vietnam to continue trading with Russia as when cooperating with the West.

Many Vietnamese leaders also know about the Russian army’s struggle against Ukraine – footage shows T-90 tanks being blown to pieces by drones used by Ukraine. They are also aware of Russia’s deepening relationship with China, which they see as a threat because of long-standing territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

In recent months, the country has turned to alternative arms sources such as South Korea, Japan and the Czech Republic. The country has also tried to build its own defense industry. They turned to India, another former Soviet ally, to add some of their weapons.

The United States has been actively providing more weapons to Vietnam, with high-ranking officials traveling to the country in recent months. But analysts say Vietnam’s top defense leaders are still suspicious of Washington. They are reluctant to tie their fate to a country where arms sales must be approved by Congress, which could make the deal contingent on human rights.

Russia has a significant stake in Vietnam’s lucrative oil and gas sector. Vietsovpetro, a joint venture run by Russia’s Zarubezhneft and Vietnam’s state-owned Petrovietnam, operates Vietnam’s largest oil field, Bach Ho.

Profits from Vietsovpetro have generated millions of dollars for both Russia and Vietnam. Zarubezhneft and Gazprom, another Russian state energy company, are also involved in oil and gas exploration projects in Vietnam.

For Moscow, these projects come at a time when Russia exports oil and gas to Europe. has decreased sharply after the imposition of sanctions from the European Union. But they have upset Beijing because they are in waters it considers part of its territory.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Vietnam was also a particularly attractive destination for Russian tourists. In 2019, Russia brought the 6th highest number of tourists to Vietnam, just behind the US. But this number fell during the pandemic and fell further after Vietnam stopped direct flights in 2022 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Direct flights resumed this year.

Starting in the 1950s, thousands Officials of the Communist Party of VietnamTop business officials, doctors, teachers and soldiers were educated in the Soviet Union and Russia. That list includes current General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong.

But some feel those deep ties were ignored by the Soviet Union’s last leader, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, and Russia’s first president, Boris N. Yeltsin.

“The Vietnamese felt that Gorbachev abandoned Vietnam in the 1980s in his efforts to improve relations with China; Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said that throughout the 1990s, Yeltsin paid almost no attention to Vietnam. “When Putin came to power in 2000, he showed a lot of things. So Vietnamese people are very grateful for that.”

He added that Vietnamese leaders like Mr. Putin because “he has brought Vietnam-Russia relations on the right track.”

Paul Sonne And Damien Cave Report contributions.

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