Kim Jong-un to visit Russia to meet PutinNorth Korean leader Kim Jong-un will visit Russia in late April at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, announced the Kremlin on Thursday.
The announcement was reported by the Russian media but did not contain details on the exact date or venue for Kim's trip, though it is widely expected the two leaders will hold a summit meeting in the Russian Far East city of Vladivostok next week.
Putin will attend a conference in Beijing on China’s “One Belt, One Road” project from April 26 to 27 and stop at Vladivostok on the way to hold a meeting with Kim, reported the Russian daily Izvestia on Wednesday, citing an official in Moscow’s Foreign Ministry.
Given Vladivostok’s proximity to North Korea, Kim is likely to travel to the Russian Far East city by rail rather than his private plane. The sighting of Kim’s chief aide for protocol, Kim Chang-son, at a Vladivostok station on Wednesday by Japanese media supported this idea.
Though a flight covering the approximately 700-kilometer (435-mile) distance between Vladivostok and Pyongyang takes only around an hour and a half, a trip by rail would likely take around 10 hours if a direct route is taken through the narrow border between the two countries.
Analysts have raised the possibility that Kim may deliberately undertake a longer journey through the Chinese cities of Tumen and Hunchun to demonstrate his regard for China as an important partner, in an attempt to hedge his bets on negotiations with the United States by reaching out to traditional allies.
The Japanese daily newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, citing a Russian official, said the Russky Island campus of Russia’s Far Eastern Federal University would be a likely venue for the summit between Kim and Putin, and several buildings have been closed to public access in recent days.
A scheduled charter flight by the North’s state carrier Koryo Airlines to Vladivostok for next Tuesday could carry Kim’s personal bodyguards ahead of their leader’s arrival, according to a report by Japan’s Kyodo News Agency.
If these reports prove true, North Korea and Russia will be holding their first summit in eight years since the North’s previous leader, Kim Jong-il, met former Russian President Dimitry Medvedev in 2011. Medvedev is now prime minister.
In the talks, Kim Jong-un may try to enlist Putin’s support to find sources of economic relief for his country amid international sanctions, and show the United States that it has the backing of Moscow and Beijing.
Another likely topic of discussion is the fate of approximately 10,000 North Korean laborers working in Russia, who, according to a UN Security Council resolution, must be repatriated by the end of this year.
Whether Kim will be able to obtain practical results from this meeting has been debated. Former U.S. National Security Council officials interviewed by Voice of America on Wednesday said that while Russia can only have a limited effect on U.S. policy towards Pyongyang, the Kremlin may try to weaken sanctions on the North to show Washington it remains a major player on the international stage.
The North’s displeasure over this key issue of sanctions was made clearer on Thursday when it accused U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of derailing negotiations on its denuclearization and called for him to be replaced with a “more careful and mature” negotiator.
In a report by its official mouthpiece, the Korean Central News Agency, a senior Foreign Ministry official in Pyongyang said Pompeo’s continued presence in the talks would make discussions “entangled,” and hoped a different person would be appointed.
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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