VLADIVOSTOK, Apr 25, 2019, Bloomberg. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time on Thursday (April 25), as Mr Kim seeks diplomatic support to help him find a way out of his stalemate in nuclear talks with United States President Donald Trump, reported The Straits Times.
A smiling Mr Kim stepped out of his limousine at Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok and greeted Mr Putin, who was waiting for him. The two shook hands, exchanged a few words and then greeted each other’s delegations inside before starting their talks.
“I believe this meeting will be productive as the whole world focuses on the Korean peninsula,” Mr Kim told Mr Putin. “We can share our opinion and comprehensively review the peninsula’s situation.”
The North Korean leader is expected to highlight his Kremlin counterpart’s backing for easing international sanctions on his tiny and battered economy in their meeting on Russky Island. Mr Kim, who arrived aboard an armoured train on Wednesday, has not met the Russian leader since coming to power in 2011.
For Mr Putin, hosting Mr Kim gives him a chance to remain a player in a security dispute shaped mainly by the US and China. Russia is likely to propose a return to six-party talks on the nuclear issue, an arrangement that included Russia and Japan, as well as China, the US and the two Koreas.
Mr Putin told Mr Kim the visit “will help us better to understand the ways to resolve the situation on the Korean peninsula, what we can do together, what Russia can do so that to support those positive processes, which are happening now”.
While Russia extended the invitation to Mr Kim almost a year ago, the North Korean leader accepted only after his second summit with Mr Trump broke down in February without agreements on sanctions relief or Mr Kim’s disarmament. Still, Mr Putin has little money to offer and is unlikely to violate the United Nations sanctions, and top Russian foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov has said the two leaders won’t make any joint statements or sign any agreements.
“This is essentially a side-show in the continuing saga between Pyongyang and Washington,” Mr Dmitri Trenin, head of the Moscow Carnegie Centre, wrote on Twitter. “Russia will seek to score diplomatic points by demonstrating its relevance; North Korea, by showing it has options.”
Mr Kim is likely to seek Mr Putin’s help for a key area of commerce between the countries – North Korean guest workers – set to be shut down by the end of the year due to UN sanctions. North Korea has sent tens of thousands of its citizens for years to places like Russia and China for manual labour, earning the regime more than US$500 million (S$681 million) a year in vital foreign currency – or about 1.5 per cent of its economy.
“North Korea sees Russia as a source of economic assistance,” said Mr Georgy Toloraya, head of the Centre for Asian Strategy in Moscow. “But there isn’t likely to be progress on this because the sanctions regime bans projects of any significance and Russia doesn’t have the resources.”
Mr Kim took his personal train across the border on Wednesday. Donning a homburg hat and black overcoat, he stepped off a green armoured carriage and onto a red carpet at the Khasan rail station along the way, where he was greeted by young women in folk costumes with offerings of the traditional Russian welcome of bread and salt.
KEY FIGURES OUT OF FAVOUR?
Mr Kim’s delegation will be scrutinised to see how power dynamics in the secretive state shifted after a shuffle of top officials unveiled earlier this month. Neither Mr Kim’s sister Kim Yo Jong nor senior aide Kim Yong Chol – two figures who have accompanied him on recent foreign trips – were visible in early reports of the Russian visit, fuelling speculation that they have fallen out of favour since Hanoi.
The Russia trip comes after Mr Kim gave a speech at the country’s rubber-stamp Parliament this month, where he said he is willing to meet Mr Trump again as long as the US offers acceptable terms for a deal by year end.
Last year, the US accused Russia of violating the sanctions by aiding in prohibited high-seas transfers of sanctioned cargo by North Korean vessels and not doing enough to end its use of North Korean labourers. Russia denied the accusations.
Russia has long advocated a return to six-party talks, which produced a deal to shut down North Korea’s main nuclear plant in exchange for energy aid. The deal fell apart after the US and others decided that a nuclear inventory produced by Pyongyang was incomplete, while the Kim regime complained that aid was arriving too slowly.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Wednesday that the six-party framework had achieved substantial contributions and said Beijing was willing to work with all parties.
China “wishes the summit success and hopes it will help resolve the peninsula issue”, ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.