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Vietnam says it discussed army games with Russia, not military drills

The Vietnamese Defense Ministry says that a meeting this month with Russia did not discuss a joint military exercise as reported Russian state media but an international military competition.

Vietnam’s version of events published in the official military newspaper Sunday could be intended to distance Vietnam from bilateral military activities with Russia amid international condemnation of the war in Ukraine.

Quan Doi Nhan Dan, the official mouthpiece of Vietnam’s armed forces, reported that on April 15 a Vietnamese delegation led by Maj. Gen. Do Dinh Thanh, commander of Vietnam Army’s Tank Force and Armored Warfare, took part in a virtual meeting with the Russian side to discuss Vietnam’s participation in the Army Games 2022.

The International Army Games, dubbed the War Olympics, is an annual military competition hosted by Russia since 2015, usually at the end of summer. Participating armies compete in different events such as “tank biathlon,” infantry, anti-aircraft artillery and troop intelligence.

China has been a regular participant of the games while Vietnam began taking part in 2018 together with nearly 30 other countries. Analysts say the Army Games aims to showcase the military prowess of Russia and other countries, as well as promote Russian weapons and technologies to prospective buyers.

The report in Quan Doi Nhan Dan said the Vietnamese general had requested that his tank team be allowed to arrive early for training and familiarization “if the Army Games are to take place” this year.

Bilateral military activities

Russia is waging a full-scale war in Ukraine after invading its neighbor on Feb. 24. The invasion, widely condemned by the international community, has caused the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

On April 19, Russia’s state media reported that Russia and Vietnam were planning to hold a joint military training exercise.

The move was described by analysts as “inappropriate” and likely to “raise eyebrows” in the rest of the region.

Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti said the initial planning meeting for the military training exercise was held virtually between the leaders of Russia’s Eastern Military District and the Vietnamese army.

The news came as the U.S. announced a May 12-13 summit in Washington with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including Vietnam.

Vietnam considers Russia a traditional ally and a “comprehensive strategic partner,” and has been supportive of Moscow despite international outrage over Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Vietnam voted against a U.S.-led resolution to remove Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council. Before that, Hanoi abstained from voting to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the U.N. General Assembly.

Vietnamese army officials are usually very tight-lipped about international affairs, and the report in the official army newspaper could be viewed as a denial of involvement in bilateral military activities with Russia.