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Treated as a pariah by the West, Putin set for warm welcome in Vietnam

June 18, 2024 9:08 PM IST

South China Sea | Russia | Cold War | Hanoi | Russian President Vladimir Putin | Ho Chi Minh | Vietnam-Soviet friendship | Nguyen Phu Trong | International Criminal Court

Russian President Vladimir Putin is widely portrayed as a pariah in the West, but he looks set to receive a warm welcome when he visits Communist-ruled Vietnam this week.

Vietnam is not a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has issued an arrest warrant for Putin over alleged war crimes in Ukraine, and ties between Hanoi and Moscow have been strong for decades.

Like Moscow, Hanoi also keeps a close eye on what is reported by national media, and Western advocacy groups say media freedoms and freedom of expression are severely limited in Vietnam.

“I was very happy when I learned that Mr Putin is coming to Vietnam because he is very talented, truly a world leader,” Tran Xuan Cuong, a 57-year-old Hanoi resident, said in front of a statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin in the Vietnamese capital.

Another Hanoi resident, Nguyen Thi Hong Van, said gifts in her Russian souvenir shop sell well.

“Vietnamese people love Russian products very much,” she told Reuters, surrounded by Matryoshka dolls and caps featuring the embroidered letters CCCP, the Cyrillic abbreviation for the Soviet Union (USSR).

Putin will visit Vietnam on Wednesday and Thursday, state media said.

The Russian leader has travelled little since the ICC ruling, which Moscow says it does not recognise. Russia also denies committing war crimes in Ukraine since the full-scale invasion Putin launched in February 2022.

TRADITIONAL TIES

Russia is the top supplier of weapons to Vietnam, and Russian firms extract oil and gas in Vietnamese fields in the South China Sea that are claimed by China.

Tens of thousands of cadres went to study in the former Soviet Union during the Cold War, including top business leaders and the current head of the Communist Party Nguyen Phu Trong, a Marxist-Leninist ideologist.

Hanoi is dotted with Soviet-style buildings, including the museum of modern Vietnam’s founding father Ho Chi Minh, and an imposing Vietnam-Soviet friendship palace, built in the late 1970s on the site where a bombed French exhibition hall stood.

In a country that is strictly controlled by its Communist leadership, and where advocacy group Human Rights Watch says rights to freedom of expression are strictly limited, Putin is unlikely to face open criticism.

“The Russian spirit is a wonderful thing. It can be gentle and has a lot of affection and love for peace,” said Tran Xuan Viet, 83.”I will always have respect and compassion for Putin. In fact, there are many things about him that I often (..) apply in my daily life.”

Some younger Vietnamese also welcomed Putin’s visit.

“I quite like Russian President Putin. I hope this visit will increase solidarity, cooperation and friendship between Russia and Vietnam,” said Pham Hoang Hai Dang, a 20-year-old student.

(Reuters)

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