North Korean state media has confirmed that leader Kim Jong-un will travel to Russia “soon” for his first ever meeting with Vladimir Putin. Speculation is growing that they’ll meet in Russia’s eastern port of Vladivostok, just hours from their shared border
The Soviet Union was a major ally of North Korea, offering economic co-operation, cultural exchanges and aid. It also provided North Korea with its initial nuclear know-how. But since the collapse of the Iron Curtain the relationship has suffered. The last North Korea-Russia bilateral meeting was in 2011, when then President Dmitry Medvedev met Mr Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il.
“International sanctions are beginning to take effect and without a change in the US position, it’s very unlikely North Korea will be able to get sanctions relief and pick up trade with the outside world,” says Professor Andrei Lankov of Seoul’s Kookmin University. . So North Korea needs to contact everyone who might be helpful in achieving that goal. Anything from real progress to even symbolic diplomatic assistance would be useful to Pyongyang.
Alexey Muraviev, associate professor at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, says North Korea has to show the US “they’re not in isolation. If they can show that major powers are still backing them up, this will give them additional bargaining power to talk to the US and China.”
“[Kim Jong Un] needs to be given full credit,” Mr Muraviev says. “He is quite skillful in playing high-stakes diplomacy for North Korea’s economic interest – and for the survival of his own regime.”
“I don’t think North Korea can get much from Russia,” Lee Jai-chun, a former South Korean ambassador to Russia, told BBC Korean. But a meeting will have domestic implications. “North Korea’s citizen know that the summit with US was a failure so the meeting with Russia could be a ‘show’ to the North Korean people.”