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Russia to Withdraw From Cam Ranh Bay - 2002-03-27

Russia plans to complete its withdrawal from the strategic Cam Ranh Bay naval base in Vietnam by July 1. Russia's prime minister confirmed the date during an official visit in Hanoi, where he pledged $350 million in loans to Vietnam.

In a news briefing with his Vietnamese counterpart, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov confirmed the July 1 deadline for pulling troops and military hardware out of Cam Ranh Bay.

But Mr. Kasyanov denied the withdrawal from the base is symbolic of Russia's declining influence in Asia. He said the equipment in the base is "obsolete" and Moscow wants to focus instead on strategic partnerships in the region.

Russia decided last year to withdraw from the deep water base on the South China Sea before the lease runs out in 2004. Vietnam and Russia are still negotiating final details of the handover of the base to Russian-trained Vietnamese engineers.

It is not clear what the future holds for Cam Ranh Bay. Vietnam says it will not grant any more exclusive leases, but it has left open the possibility of port calls for individual nations. Russia, the United States and China have all expressed interest.

On the second day of his three-day visit, Mr. Kasyanov signed a $250 million loan to develop a petroleum refinery in Vietnam, and another $100 million loan to build two hydro-electric power plants. He also pledged to help Vietnam develop a peaceful nuclear power program.

Two-way trade between the two countries was still a modest $550 million last year. But Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai said he hopes to increase it to $1 billion within five years.