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Vladimir Putin to Visit Vietnam, Sparking US Protest

Published: June 18, 2024
(Image: Russia's President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a meeting with the leadership of the Russian foreign ministry in Moscow, Russia June 14, 2024. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo)

Vietnamese and Russian state media said on Monday, June 17 that Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Vietnam later in the week.

Last weekend Hanoi skipped the Peace Summit in Switzerland, which discussed solutions to the war in Ukraine, while sending its deputy foreign minister to a BRICS meeting in Russia instead.

Putin is expected to meet Vietnam’s new president, To Lam, and other leaders during the two-day visit to Hanoi on Wednesday and Thursday (June 19–20), officials said.

The announcement came directly ahead of Putin’s trip to North Korea on June 18. The Russian president has not visited North Korea since the year 2000. 

The U.S. and its allies have treated Russia as an international pariah since its invasion of Ukraine that began two years ago, placing sanctions on Russia itself as well as countries and companies that do business with it. 

A spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Hanoi told Reuters: “No country should give Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression and otherwise allow him to normalize his atrocities.” 

Vietnam, a country of around 90 million and a growing center of manufacturing, has been courting the support of the U.S., China, and Russia. Last September, the U.S. upgraded its relationship with Vietnam to a “comprehensive strategic partnership.” That agreement was reached following a summit in Hanoi between U.S. President Joe Biden and Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party. 

Currently, the U.S. is Vietnam’s top trading partner.

“If [Putin] is able to travel freely, it could normalize Russia’s blatant violations of international law,” the spokesperson added.

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 U.S. are not members of the ICC and they do not recognize the court.

The European Union did not comment about the visit, but it expressed dissatisfaction last month, over Hanoi’s decision to delay a meeting with the EU envoy on Russian sanctions. EU officials are now linking the decision to preparations for Putin’s visit.

The EU is another key economic partner for Vietnam.

Ian Storey, senior fellow at the Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute said the visit means “to demonstrate that Vietnam pursues a balanced foreign policy that does not favor any of the major powers.” 

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 told Reuters.

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 and energy, with Russian companies operating in Vietnamese gas and oil fields in areas of the South China Sea. 

Also payments between the two countries will be on the table, as they have struggled to carry out transactions because of U.S. sanctions on Russian banks.

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

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

Reuters contributed to this report.