Putin signs deals in Vietnam to shore up ties in Asia

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a series of deals with his Vietnamese counterpart To Lam during a state visit that comes as Moscow is seeking to bolster ties in Asia to offset growing international isolation over its military actions in Ukraine.

The two signed agreements on Thursday to further co-operation on education, science and technology, oil and gas exploration and health.

They also agreed to work on a road map for a nuclear science and technology centre in Vietnam.

Following the talks, Putin said that the two countries share an interest in "developing a reliable security architecture" in the Asia-Pacific Region based on not using force and peacefully settling disputes with no room for "closed military-political blocs".

Putin had arrived at Vietnam's Presidential Palace on Thursday afternoon, where he was greeted by school children waving Russian and Vietnamese flags.

To Lam and Vladimir Putin review an honour guard in Hanoi
Vietnam rolled out the red carpet for Vladimir Putin on his state visit. (AP PHOTO)

There he shook hands with and embraced Vietnam's new President To Lam before a bilateral meeting and a joint briefing to the media.

Putin had arrived in Hanoi early on Thursday morning from North Korea, where he and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signed an agreement that pledges mutual aid in the event of war.

The strategic pact that could mark the strongest connection between Moscow and Pyongyang since the end of the Cold War comes as both face escalating stand-offs with the West.

He met Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and was also scheduled to meet Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong - Vietnam's most powerful politician - and parliamentary chief Tran Thanh Man.

The trip has resulted in a sharp rebuke from the US embassy in the country.

Much has changed since Putin's last visit to Vietnam in 2017.

Russia faces a raft of US-led sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine.

In 2023, the International Criminal Court in Hague issued an arrest warrant for Putin for war crimes.

The Kremlin rejected it as "null and void", stressing that Moscow does not recognise the court's jurisdiction.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Vietnamese President To Lam
Vladimir Putin is holding talks with top Vietnamese officials during his visit. (AP PHOTO)

Putin's recent visits to China and now North Korea and Vietnam are attempts to "break the international isolation", said Nguyen Khac Giang, an analyst at Singapore's ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

The US and its allies have expressed growing concerns over a possible arms arrangement in which Pyongyang provides Moscow with badly needed munitions for its use in Ukraine, in exchange for economic assistance and technology transfers that could enhance the threat posed by Kim's nuclear weapons and missile program.

Both countries deny accusations of weapons transfers, which would violate multiple UN Security Council sanctions that Russia previously endorsed.

Meanwhile, Russia was important to Vietnam for two reasons, Giang said: it is the biggest supplier of military equipment to the Southeast Asian nation, and Russian oil exploration technologies help maintain its sovereignty claims in the contested South China Sea.

"Russia is signalling that it is not isolated in Asia despite the Ukraine war, and Vietnam is reinforcing a key traditional relationship even as it also diversifies ties with newer partners," said Prashanth Parameswaran, a fellow with the Wilson Center's Asia Program.

Hanoi and Moscow have had diplomatic relations since 1950, and 2024 marks 30 years of a treaty establishing "friendly relations" between Vietnam and Russia.

In an article written for the official newspaper of Vietnam's Communist Party, Putin vowed to deepen the ties between Moscow and Hanoi and hailed Vietnam as a "strong supporter of a fair world order based on international law, on the principles of equality of all states and non-interference in their domestic affairs".

He also thanked "Vietnamese friends for their balanced position on the Ukrainian crisis", in the article released by the Kremlin.

Vietnam has remained neutral on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but neutrality is getting trickier, with the US embassy in Hanoi criticising Putin's visit, saying "no country should give Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression and otherwise allow him to normalise his atrocities".