Kim Jong-un is grappling for a way out of his stalemate in nuclear talks with Donald Trump as he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time on Thursday, seeking diplomatic support.
The North Korean leader is expected to highlight his Kremlin counterpart’s backing for easing international sanctions on his tiny and battered economy when they meet on Russky Island in the Russian Far East.
Kim, who arrived in the Sea of Japan port of Vladivostok aboard an armoured train, hasn’t met with the Russian leader since coming to power in 2011.
For Putin, hosting 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.
While Russia extended the invitation to Kim almost a year ago, the North Korean leader only accepted after his second summit with Trump broke down in February without agreements on sanctions relief or Kim’s disarmament. Still, 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 continuing saga between Pyongyang and Washington,” Dmitri Trenin, head of the Moscow Carnegie Center, wrote on Twitter. “Russia will seek to score diplomatic points by demonstrating its relevance; North Korea, by showing it has options.”
Kim is likely to seek 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 $500 million a year in vital foreign currency — or about
1.5 percent of its economy.
“North Korea sees Russia as a source of economic assistance,” said Georgy Toloraya, head of the Center 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.”
Kim took his personal train across the border. 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.