Russia's Putin praises Vietnam for its stance on Ukraine

FILE PHOTO: Russian President Putin meets international news agency editors in St Petersburg

By Phuong Nguyen and Francesco Guarascio

HANOI (Reuters) - Russia's President Vladimir Putin praised Vietnam for its "balanced" stance on the Ukraine war and listed progress on payments, energy and trade in an opinion piece published on Wednesday in the newspaper of Vietnam's Communist Party.

In the piece timed for Putin's state visit to Vietnam, he applauded the Southeast Asian Communist-ruled country for supporting "a pragmatic way to solve the crisis" in Ukraine, in comments published in the Nhan Dan newspaper.

Vietnam, which officially pursues a neutral foreign policy in its relations with major world powers, has abstained from condemning Russia's attack on Ukraine, a position that Western countries have considered as too close to the Kremlin.

Putin is due to arrive in Hanoi overnight, and plans to meet Vietnamese leaders on Thursday, on the heels of a trip to North Korea.

The Russian leader, who is making his first visit to Vietnam since 2017 when he attended an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, said Russia and Vietnam also shared "similar assessments of the situation in the Asia-Pacific region."

Vietnam's position on the South China Sea differs from that of China which claims the strategic waterway almost entirely as its own, including gas and oil fields in Vietnam's Exclusive Economic Zone where Russian companies extract oil and gas.

ENERGY AND PAYMENTS

Putin said energy was "an area of strategic importance in bilateral cooperation" and cited Russia-Vietnam joint ventures on fossil fuels in the South China Sea and in northern Russia.

Gazprom also operates gas fields in Vietnam, he noted. Russian energy firm Novatek "plans to launch liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects in Vietnam", Putin said without elaborating.

He also cited an initiative "to establish a Centre for nuclear science and technology in Vietnam" with the support of Rosatom, Russia's state-owned nuclear energy giant.

About a decade ago, Vietnam suspended a plan to develop a nuclear power plant and it is unclear whether it intends to reconsider that position. South Korea and Canada are among countries that have proposed nuclear energy options to Vietnam, according to people familiar with the matter.

Putin also praised progress on finance and trade.

Settling payments between the two countries was made complex by Western sanctions on Russian banks, and the issue has long been a priority in bilateral meetings, officials have said.

Vietnam is historically a big importer of Russian weapons.

Putin said transactions in roubles and Vietnamese dong accounted for 60% of bilateral trade payments in the first quarter of this year, up from more than 40% last year.

"Vietnam-Russia Joint Venture Bank plays an important role in ensuring reliable financial transactions," Putin wrote, referring to a Hanoi-based lender set up in 2006.

He also noted that bilateral trade was increasing.

However Vietnam's trade with Russia remains limited and the United States and China are Hanoi's main trading partners.

(Reporting by Phuong Nguyen, Khanh Vu and Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Ed Davies)