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Russia’s Putin could visit Vietnam this month, reports claim

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The Russian leader could include a stop in Hanoi on his upcoming state visit to China.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin could be on his way to Vietnam soon, according to various media reports, in what would be his first state visit to the country since 2017.

According to Reuters, which cited comments from Russia’s ambassador to Vietnam Gennady Bezdetko, Putin has accepted the invitation and that a date for the visit would be decided after the inauguration of his fifth term as president last week.

The visit could take place as early as next week, when the Russian leader will fly to Beijing for meetings with Chinese leaders. The Russian government has not revealed the dates of Putin’s trip to China, but according to a Bloomberg report, the visit will take place on May 15-16, and some reports have speculated that Putin may stop in Vietnam on the way to or from China.

Putin’s visit would complement recent visits by U.S. President Joe Biden, China’s leader Xi Jinping, and other top leaders, who have been hosted by Vietnamese leaders in Hanoi.

A visit by the Russian leader was mooted in late March, when Nguyen Phu Trong, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), took a call with Putin. During the call, Vietnamese state media reported, “General Secretary Trong took the occasion to extend an invitation to President Putin to visit Viet Nam in the near future, which the latter accepted with pleasure.” Putin agreed that “both sides would coordinate to arrange a suitable time for the trip.”

The Reuters report also linked Putin’s possible visit to the Vietnamese government’s decision last week to postpone a visit by a top European Union official in charge of the bloc’s sanctions policy.

David O’Sullivan, the special envoy for the implementation of EU sanctions, was due to arrive in Vietnam today on a two-day visit, but according to a diplomat “with direct knowledge of the situation” quoted by Reuters, Hanoi asked to delay the meeting “as leaders were too busy to meet with him.” It cited other diplomats and sources as saying that the discussions linked the delay to preparations for a possible visit by the Russian leader. As Reuters reported, “One source said the Russian leader’s visit could be ‘spoiled’ by any talks with the EU envoy.” The current chaos of Vietnamese domestic politics may also factor into the decision, following the postponement in March of a state visit by the king and queen of the Netherlands.

Putin has made four visits to Vietnam during his years in power, most recently for the APEC Summit in Danang in 2017. He also attended the East Asia Summit hosted by Vietnam in 2020, which was conducted via video-link due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This visit, coming two years after Russia invaded Ukraine, would underscore the fact that the EU, the United States, and their allies have failed to forge an international consensus on the Russia-Ukraine war.

As Ian Storey, fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, told Voice of America last week, Putin would use a Vietnam visit “to signal to the world that his government’s ‘Turn to the East’ policy remains on track and that the West has failed to isolate Russia.”

For Vietnam, welcoming a leader, who is anathema to Western partners would represent a manifestation and assertion of its omnidirectional foreign policy, which seeks to maintain close relationships with as many powerful nations as possible. Of Vietnam’s seven “comprehensive strategic” partners, five have sent high-level leaders to Vietnam over the past two years. The only leaders that the country has not hosted in that time are Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, though the latter met with Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh on the sidelines of the G-7 meeting in Hiroshima, Japan, in May of last year.

In this sense, a visit by Putin is due – and should come as no surprise to officials and observers in Europe and North America.

By Sebastian Strangio – The Diplomat – May 13, 2024

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