Wednesday 22 May 2019

Putin and Kim set to meet as Russia aims to weigh in on North Korea

Kim Jong-un wants to hedge bets after failed US summit
Kim Jong-un wants to hedge bets after failed US summit

Simon Denyer

Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un may finally be ready to meet for the first time, as Russia seeks to extend its influence and North Korea tries to hedge its bets after the failed summit with US President Donald Trump.

The potential of closer ties between Mr Putin and Mr Kim carries historical resonance dating back to the countries' Cold War bonds.

However, Moscow has bigger diplomatic priorities around the world, experts say, and is unlikely to disrupt US-led efforts to pressure North Korea to unwind its nuclear programme.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said this week preparations were under way for a meeting, while Russian and South Korean newspapers said the pair may meet in Vladivostok in Russia's far east next week, as Mr Putin heads to a summit on China's Belt and Road initiative in Beijing.

In a sign of Moscow's growing relevance, US envoy Stephen Biegun was holding talks with Russian officials in Moscow today "to discuss efforts to advance the final, fully verified denuclearisation of North Korea", according to the US State Department.

For Mr Kim, a summit with Mr Putin would be another step in the international rehabilitation of the once-ostracised leader. It would also be his chance to send a signal to both Washington and Beijing that he has other options.

For Mr Putin, a summit would mark another milestone in his effort to show Russians - and the world - he has brought his country back as a global diplomatic power.

"Russia wants to be the groom at every wedding and the dead man at every funeral," said Georgy Kunadze, a retired Russian diplomat in east Asia.

But it wasn't clear, he said, what Russia could deliver since it "will never vote on North Korea at the UN Security Council differently from the way China votes."

There has been a flurry of diplomatic exchanges between the two countries. North Korea's vice-foreign minister Im Chon-il visited Moscow last month, and Russian interior minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev was in Pyongyang recently.

Two Russian parliamentary delegations visited Pyongyang last month and this week, while there have been daily contacts between officials, one diplomat said.

Andrei Lankov, a Russian North Korea expert at Seoul's Kookmin University, said Russia wanted to become an important regional player but lacked the influence in either Washington or Pyongyang to really insert itself into the Korean diplomatic process.

"Russia can have some say in Pyongyang but only if it is going to pay," he said. "Your willingness to pay does not guarantee you will be taken seriously in Pyongyang, but if you don't pay you are never taken seriously."

Mr Lankov said Mr Putin was unlikely to offer Mr Kim a major aid package, simply because Russia has more pressing priorities in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. (© Washington Post)

Irish Independent

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