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Energy, military deals inked as Putin visits Vietnam

Visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) talks with his Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang during a welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace in Hanoi on November 12, 2013. Putin is in Hanoi for a one-day visit to Vietnam as part of his Asia tour/AFP PHOTO

Russia and Vietnam will cooperate in offshore oil exploration and deepen military ties, President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday after "constructive and open" talks with his counterpart in Hanoi.

Putin hailed increased bilateral trade -- worth some $3.6 billion last year, up 20 percent year-on-year -- as the two countries work towards a free trade agreement. 

They signed agreements on issues ranging from defense cooperation to joint oil exploration in Vietnam's offshore blocks, after Putin met Vietnam's President Truong Tan Sang.

"We will deepen our successful cooperation in the oil sector," Putin said after the meeting.

Rosneft and PetroVietnam have signed an agreement on joint oil exploration in Vietnam's offshore Block 15-1/05, he said, adding the two countries also aimed to build links between their heavy industry, aviation and automobile sectors.

"Russia will sell Vietnam more military equipment," Putin added, without elaborating. 

On November 7 Russia handed over to Vietnam the first of six diesel-electric Kilo Class submarines under a deal signed in 2009.  

In 2010 Moscow and Hanoi signed a deal to construct the first nuclear power plant -- with two reactors -- in Vietnam. The project is expected to cost more than four billion euros ($5.1 billion).

"Russia is working with Vietnam not only to build the country's first nuclear power plant, but also train staff and set up a science and technology centre," Putin said at a press conference after the talks.

The two nations also signed deals on issues from prisoner transfers to new joint ventures in the banking sector.

Vietnam's President Sang described the talks with Putin as "extremely successful".

Before Putin's visit, the Vietnamese media published a statement from him in which he hailed the "all-encompassing" strategic partnership between the two countries.

Russia-Vietnam trade rose 20 percent last year to US$3.66 billion, and they hope to increase that figure to $7 billion by 2015 and $10 billion by 2020, he wrote.

With these goals in mind, Russia "is counting on successfully closing" an agreement to establish a free-trade zone between Vietnam and the Russian-led Customs Union, negotiations for which are ongoing, he said.

He went on to praise the work of several Russian-Vietnamese oil joint ventures.

Flagship enterprise Vietsovpetro has already extracted 206 million tons of oil from the continental shelf, while Rusvietpetro is performing well in Russia's Yamal-Nenets autonomous district and the fledgling Gazpromviet has begun developing oil and gas fields in the Orenburg region and other areas, he wrote.

State natural resource giants Gazprom and Rosneft are increasing their foothold in Vietnam through hydrocarbon projects, delivery of liquefied natural gas from the Far East, and modernization of oil refineries.

It is Putin's fourth trip to Vietnam after visiting as Russian president in 2001 and 2006 and prime minister in 2011.

Vietnam is the second country in the Asia-Pacific region he is visiting after China in his new term.

From Vietnam, he travels to South Korea for an official visit Wednesday.