SEOUL/MOSCOW/VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA – Final arrangements are being made for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to visit Russia for three days from Wednesday next week, it was learned Thursday from official sources of both countries.
The Russian presidential office announced the visit the same day, saying Kim will be making the trip at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin.
Kim will be traveling to the country by special train and hold his first summit with Putin on Russky Island off the city of Vladivostok, according to the sources.
A team of North Korean security staffers is scheduled to arrive in Vladivostok next Tuesday on a special flight operated by the country’s national carrier Air Koryo, a Russian government official has said.
The group may be part of the security detail for Kim’s visit, his first to Russia since taking power.
The Russian authorities last week gave notice to the relevant locations of Kim’s planned visit. However, according to the sources, there remains the possibility of Pyongyang making changes to the plan.
Russky Island was the venue of the leaders’ meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum hosted by Russia in 2012.
A separate Russian government official said a high-level North Korean official is currently in Vladivostok. The North Korean is believed to be Kim Chang Son, a close aide of Kim Jong Un.
Putin in May last year invited the North Korean leader to visit Russia.
An adviser to Putin told Russian media on Wednesday that preparations are underway for a Putin-Kim summit, but declined to specify a date for it.
Putin is expected to attend an international forum on China’s Belt and Road Initiative to be held in Beijing on April 25-27.
Vladivostok airport staff said the special Air Koryo flight is due to arrive from Pyongyang on Tuesday morning and return to the North Korean capital later that day.
A Russian government official said a large group of people including those responsible for security will be visiting on Tuesday, suggesting the travel is related to preparations for Kim’s visit.
The meeting would mark the first summit between top leaders of the neighboring countries since Kim’s late father, Kim Jong Il, met then-President Dmitry Medvedev in 2011. The elder Kim visited Russia three times including earlier trips in 2001 and 2002 while Putin traveled to North Korea in 2000.
Confirmation of the visit follows speculation that Kim would soon reach out to a long-time ally after failing to get sanctions relief during his last nuclear talks with U.S. President Donald Trump in February.
The visit comes after Kim gave a lengthy speech in which he said he would give the U.S. to the end of this year to come up with new proposals for future talks. Kim has been calling for an end to sanctions intended to punish North Korea for its nuclear weapons program. The penalties were a major factor in the Feb. 28 collapse of his summit in Vietnam with Trump, whose administration wants the regime to make greater disarmament commitments before it gets relief.
Russia, which wields veto power on the United Nations Security Council, has expressed repeated support for reducing sanctions since North Korea opened nuclear talks last year. The U.S. and its allies have balked at allowing projects currently blocked by sanctions and long sought by North Korea — such as an energy pipeline from Russia and regular train service across their shared border — until Pyongyang agrees to reduce its security threat.
By visiting Russia, Kim is trying to demonstrate to the U.S. that he is not isolated, if matters don’t work out with Trump, said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert and professor at Kookmin University in Seoul. Kim and Putin will probably discuss ways to get around U.N. restrictions on hiring North Korean workers abroad and other potential economic support, Lankov said.
“Most probably, it won’t yield anything as Russia has no intentions to invest in North Korea significantly,” Lankov said.
Ties between the Soviet Union and then Russia with North Korea run deep. The Soviet Union helped train Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, and set him up as its leader. Some analysts contend that the current leader’s father was born in the Soviet Union rather than under a double rainbow at a secret rebel camp on North Korea’s celebrated Mount Paektu, as Pyongyang’s propaganda machine maintains.
While the North Korean leader visited Chinese President Xi Jinping ahead of his two summits with Trump, he didn’t stop in Beijing during his return by train from talks with Trump.