SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will hold his first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week in Vladivostok, Russian media reported on Wednesday.
His visit comes after he failed to persuade US President Donald Trump to ease sanctions on his regime in Hanoi at the end of February.
“The first meeting in eight years between the heads of the two countries is expected to be held in Vladivostok before the departure of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Beijing for the One Belt and One Road Summit on April 26-27,” the daily newspaper Izvestiya reported, citing “an informed source at the Russian Foreign Ministry.”
“The main thing to be discussed by the heads of the two countries is the whole complex of bilateral relations and the development of economic relations in the context of sanctions,” it said, adding that Putin was expected to advocate the need for partial sanctions against North Korea.
Media outlets in South Korea anticipated that the Kim-Putin summit would take place on either April 23 or 24.
Analysts say Kim’s pivot to Russia is a way to withstand ongoing sanctions.
“For Kim, a summit with Putin is a good chance to breathe fresh life into the North’s economic hardship without the relief of US-led sanctions,” Kim Dong-yeop, a professor at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies of Kyungnam University, told Arab News. “Kim is expected to focus more on the matters of mutual economic cooperation with Russia in the fields of energy and trade than on the issue of US sanctions. If it succeeds, Kim could buy time before a sanctions’ lifting by the US.”
Earlier this month in a speech to the North’s rubber-stamp Parliament, Kim made it clear he would not fixate on a Trump summit “with a thirst for easing sanctions,” although he said he was open to a possible third meeting with the US leader.
The Vladivostok meeting signals the North’s efforts to diversify its diplomacy away from dependency on its traditional ally China, said Shin Jong-woo, a senior analyst at the Korea Defense and Security Forum think tank in Seoul.
“Pyongyang-Beijing relations are changing, with China’s influence on North Korea apparently dwindling in the aftermath of its unsuccessful trade war with Washington,” Shin told Arab News. “Russia is in a different position, however, as it confronts the US diplomatically and militarily. North Korea wants to use the confrontational relationship as a lever to resist US pressure and evade sanctions.”
Russia hosts thousands of North Korean laborers, an important source of income for the cash-strapped regime. A report from the UN Panel of Experts, which supervises sanctions implementation, alleged that Russia was continuing ship-to-ship transfers of oil and other fuels, which are prohibited by sanctions.
The US dispatched its envoy to North Korea, Stephen Biegun, to Moscow on Wednesday.
The US State Department says Biegun will stay in the capital until Thursday for talks with his Russian counterparts over the final and fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.
“The US government would have intelligence about the Russia-North Korea summit,” Shin said. “Biegun is expected to play as a stopper to block Russia’s diplomatic maneuvers with North Korea ahead of the summit.”
News of the Putin-Kim summit comes as fresh analysis of US satellite imagery suggests there may be renewed activity at the North’s main nuclear complex in Yongbyon.
According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, new photographs taken on April 12 show five specialized rail cars at a part of the complex near a uranium enrichment facility and radiochemistry laboratory.
Experts believe they indicate reprocessing activity is about to or has taken place, a step in the production of fissile material for nuclear bombs.