North Korean leader expected to seek Russian president’s support over western sanctions
Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin will hold talks on an island in the far east of Russia this week in the first meeting between the two leaders, the Kremlin has confirmed.
The North Korean leader is expected to travel by armoured train to the city of Vladivostok on Wednesday, where he will meet the Russian president on the island campus of Far Eastern Federal University under heavy security.
The meeting comes two months after a lacklustre summit between Kim and Donald Trump in Hanoi failed to achieve any agreement on North Korea’s nuclear programme.
In Russia, Kim is expected to seek Putin’s support in his standoff with the west over sanctions, and also attempt to strike deals to help develop North Korea’s economy. The Russian president will hope to establish himself as a key player in international negotiations with Pyongyang.
Yuri Ushakov, a Kremlin aide, confirmed Putin and Kim will meet on Thursday.
Ushakov said Putin would address diplomatic negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear programme and try to set the tone for “achieving serious agreements for settling the problem of the Korean peninsula”.
In a nod to Beijing’s close relations with Pyongyang, Ushakov said Putin would promote a Russian-Chinese “road map” to reducing tensions that would end with North Korea abandoning its nuclear programme in exchange for western concessions.
His remarks also seemed to rule out Moscow proposing any radically new diplomatic initiatives during the meeting.
Ushakov said the summit had not been announced until Tuesday by agreement with Pyongyang. But the meeting was hardly kept secret. Media reports and photographs of the preparations have indicated for days the summit is imminent.
A North Korean advance team has arrived in Vladivostok and classes at Far Eastern University from 23-27 April were reported to have been cancelled. Photographs uploaded to social media showed workers hanging the flags of the two countries from lampposts.
The Russian business daily Kommersant, citing two sources, reported Kim will arrive in Vladivostok on Wednesday, after making the 400-mile (650km) train journey from Pyongyang. He will meet Putin on Thursday and then remain one more day to see the city and possibly locations visited by his father, Kim Jong-il, in 2002.
Putin, perhaps wary of irritating North Korea’s main ally, China, will leave on Friday for Beijing to attend the April summit of the Belt and Road initiative.
A main concern for Pyongyang is the expulsion of North Korean workers in Russia under 2017 UN sanctions. Thousands of workers in countries such as Russia and China are a key source of foreign currency for Pyongyang, and Russia has claimed to have sent home nearly two-thirds of the 30,000 North Koreans working there in 2018.
Pyongyang may also seek investment or humanitarian aid from Moscow.
Russia is opposed to North Korea further developing its nuclear programme, but is also critical of Washington’s use of sanctions against Pyongyang and will want to signal publicly that North Korea is not isolated.
While the meeting is an important gesture for both sides, analysts do not expect Russia to invest heavily in cash-strapped North Korea.
Russian media have reported heavy security precautions for the visit. The location for the summit on Russky Island was reportedly chosen because of Kim’s security requirements. The waters around the island will be closed to boats from 24-26 April, Interfax reported, and commuter train schedules in and around the city have also been altered.
Kim Jong-il visited Vladivostok in 2002 during a rare trip abroad. He last visited Russia during a train tour to Siberia in 2011, months before his death.