Asia Pacific / Politics

Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin get down to talks in Russia on North Korean nuclear standoff


Kim Jong Un sought Vladimir Putin’s help in resolving troubles on the divided Korean Peninsula, holding his first summit with the Russian leader on Thursday as he tried to find a way out of his nuclear stalemate with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Putin and Kim revealed little about the content of their nearly two-hour meeting — more than an hour longer than scheduled — held at a university in Vladivostok.

Kim has been seeking relief from the United Nations Security Council sanctions that are choking his state’s tiny economy, but Putin has little money to offer — and also is bound by the international economic restrictions.

“I visited Russia to meet President Putin in person and exchange opinions about the Korean Peninsula, which is getting intense attention from all over the world,” Kim said at the meeting on Russky Island, sitting opposite Putin in a conference room.

For Putin, hosting Kim gives him a chance to remain a player in a security dispute shaped mainly by the U.S. and China.

Ahead of the meeting, Russia appeared likely to seek a return to six-party talks on the nuclear issue, an arrangement that included Russia and Japan, as well as China, the United States and the two Koreas.

“We talked about the situation on the Korean Peninsula, exchanged opinions on how and what should be done so that the situation has good prospects to improve,” Putin said.

Kim, who kept Putin waiting almost a year for the summit, was also more than 30 minutes behind the Russian president’s arrival at the venue.

That was an unusual turnabout for Putin, who is notorious for keeping world leaders waiting for meetings.

“We welcome your efforts to develop inter-Korean dialogue and to normalize North Korean and American relations,” Putin told Kim.

Kim, who arrived aboard an armored train Wednesday, hasn’t met with the Russian leader since coming to power in Pyongyang in 2011.

But ties between Moscow and Pyongyang have run deep for decades, with Soviet leader Josef Stalin helping Kim’s grandfather Kim Il Sung set up the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the aftermath of World War II.

Still, top Russian foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov has said the two leaders won’t sign any agreements.

Although 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 Februarywithout any agreements.

Kim wanted the U.S. to ease the sanctions to reciprocate for partial disarmament steps he took last year. But the U.S. maintained that the sanctions will stay in place until North Korea makes more significant denuclearization moves.

North Korea had increasingly expressed its frustration at the deadlocked negotiations. Last week, it tested a new weapon and demanded that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo be removed from the nuclear talks.

“This (the meeting in Vladivostok) 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.”

In separate comments, Trenin said that Putin will likely encourage Kim to continue constructive talks with the U.S., reflecting Russia’s own worry about the North nuclear and missile programs.

“Russia can’t be expected to side with North Korea and, let’s say, support the North Koreans all the way in the Security Council, where Russia is a veto-wielding member and where all sanctions imposed on North Korea require Russia’s approval,” he said.

Trenin also emphasized that Moscow is skeptical that the North could be persuaded to fully abandon its nuclear weapons, considering it a “mission impossible.”

“North Korea will not give up the only guarantee of the survival of the North Korean state and its regime,” he said.

Kim’s delegation will be scrutinized to see how power dynamics in the secretive state shifted after a shuffle of top officials unveiled earlier this month.

Neither Kim’s sister Kim Yo Jong nor senior aide Kim Yong Chol — two figures who have accompanied him on recent foreign trips — were visible in early reports of the Russian visit, fueling speculation that they had fallen out of favor since Hanoi.

The Russia trip also comes after Kim gave a speech at the country’s rubber-stamp parliament this month, where he said he is willing to meet Trump again as long as the U.S. offers acceptable terms for a deal by year end.

Russia, like the U.S., is strongly opposed Pyongyang’s nuclear bid. It has long advocated a return to six-party talks, which produced a deal to shut down North Korea’s main nuclear plant in exchange for energy aid. The deal fell apart after the U.S. and others decided that a nuclear inventory produced by Pyongyang was incomplete, while the Kim regime complained that aid was arriving too slowly.

Speaking before the talks, Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said that Russia will seek to “consolidate the positive trends” stemming from the Trump-Kim meetings. He noted that the Kremlin would try to help “create preconditions and a favorable atmosphere for reaching solid agreements on the problem of the Korean Peninsula.”

Russia would also like to gain broader access to North Korea’s mineral resources, including rare metals. Pyongyang, for its part, covets Russia’s electricity supplies and investment to modernize its dilapidated Soviet-built industrial plants, railways and other infrastructure.