Russia’s Lavrov enjoys warm relations with Vietnam ahead of frosty Bali reception

Special to BenarNews
2022.07.06
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Russia’s Lavrov enjoys warm relations with Vietnam ahead of frosty Bali reception Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov (left) meets with his Vietnamese counterpart, Bui Thanh Son, in Hanoi, July 6, 2022.
Russian Foreign Ministry

Sergey Lavrov traveled to Russia’s closest ASEAN ally, Vietnam, before heading to the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting starting Thursday.

The Russian foreign minister traveled to Hanoi for the quick visit with Moscow’s main Southeast Asian partner before attending a G20 meeting in Bali where Lavrov’s Canadian counterpart has warned she would not shake his hand.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly told Canadian media she would instead “confront him with facts and expose Russia’s narrative for what it is: lies and disinformation” about the war in Ukraine.

Canada, along with other Western countries, has imposed sanctions on Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine, now in its fifth month.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also is expected to snub Lavrov in Bali, with the State Department saying “it cannot be business as usual with the Russian Federation.”

Vietnam, on the other hand, has refused to condemn the Russian war and objected to a U.S.-led effort to suspend Russia from the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Lavrov is the first Russian cabinet minister to visit Hanoi since President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” against Ukraine in February.

His visit is taking place as Hanoi and Moscow celebrate the 10th anniversary of the “comprehensive strategic partnership” Vietnam has forged with only three other nations. The other comprehensive strategic partners are China and India.

‘The most important partner’

The Russian foreign minister and his Vietnamese counterpart, Bui Thanh Son, met on Wednesday morning, leading Son to tell Russian state media that he’d like to “reassure you that Russia will always be our most important partner and the main priority in Vietnam’s policy.”

Son said he “deeply believed that with the high level of political trust and a long-term interest,” the Vietnam-Russia relationship would continue to develop.

Moscow is Hanoi’s traditional ally and its biggest arms supplier. Most Vietnamese weapons used by the navy and air force were purchased from Russia, leading to a dependence on Russian maintenance and spare parts, despite efforts to diversify arms supplies.

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Russian anti-submarine ship Marshal Shaposhnikov. [ITAR-TASS file photo]

A Russian presence in the South China Sea, where Beijing claims “historical rights” over almost 80 percent, could also be seen as a counterweight for competing China-U.S. rivalry as well as keeping China’s aggression at bay, analysts have said.

On June 25 to 28, three warships of the Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet, led by the Udaloy-class anti-submarine destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov, visited Cam Ranh in central Vietnam where Russia operated a major naval base until 2002.

Lavrov was quoted as telling his Vietnamese counterpart on Wednesday that “in the context of current world affairs, once again we should unite and strive to maintain international laws, the principle of national sovereignty and non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs.”

The full agenda of the Russian minister’s visit has not been disclosed but some analysts, including Artyom Lukin, deputy director for research at the School of Regional and International Studies at Russia’s Far Eastern Federal University, said boosting economic cooperation at a time when Moscow has been isolated and sanctioned would be one of the main topics.

“The Kremlin should already be more or less satisfied with Hanoi’s position on the Ukraine crisis since Vietnam’s stance all along has been strictly neutral,” Lukin said.

“Rather than securing Vietnam’s political neutrality, which is already there, Moscow needs to ensure that Vietnam continues and expands economic links with Russia.”

Between a rock and a hard place

“What is important for Russia now is how to restructure economic ties, trade, cooperation in industry and technologies with the non-Western world,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, chairman of the Presidium of the Russian Council for Foreign and Defense Policy.

“It is highly important for Russia to intensify all possible ties to find ways to avoid and bypass the economic warfare applied by the West,” said the Moscow-based analyst.

Artyom Lukin from the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, pointed out that “amid Western sanctions, Asia and the Middle East are replacing Europe as Russia’s main geo-economic partners.”

“Vietnam is the only ASEAN country to have a Free Trade Agreement with Moscow and Vietnam’s economic significance for Russia will now grow substantially, both as a market in itself and as a gateway for Russia’s business interactions with Asia,” he said.

Despite COVID-19, bilateral trade between Vietnam and Russia reached U.S. $5.54 billion in 2021, a 14 percent increase from the previous year, according to official statistics.

Yet the Ukrainian crisis that severely disrupted the global supply chain of food, fertilizer and energy has put Hanoi in an uneasy position.

Vietnam has established important strategic links with foreign powers including the U.S. and Japan, both strongly opposed to the Russian war in Ukraine and both are considered supportive of Hanoi’s interests in the South China Sea.

Being seen as too close to Moscow would give Hanoi a disadvantage unless it could act as a go-between to mediate Russia’s interactions with the West, said a Vietnamese expert who was not authorized to speak to foreign media.

Vietnam also has to be watchful for Russia-China joint maritime activities that could hurt its interests in the South China Sea.

On Monday, Chinese and Russian warships were spotted just outside Japanese territorial waters around the disputed, Japan-administered Senkaku islands in the East China Sea.

Tokyo lodged a protest with Beijing about the incident amid China’s growing maritime assertiveness and increasingly robust China-Russia military ties, Kyodo News reported.

Chinese media responded that the Russian Navy’s recent military activities in the West Pacific are a warning to Japan amid Japanese sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

Reported by Radio Free Asia, an online affiliate of BenarNews.

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