The reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may have another high-profile meeting on his calendar: an audience with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Rumors of a Putin-Kim summit have swirled for some time now, but sources at the foreign ministry in Moscow told Russian publication Izvestia on Wednesday that the meeting — the first between the two world leaders — had been scheduled for next week in the Russian city of Vladivostok. Kim will likely use the meeting to, once again, push Putin to advocate on his behalf to ease some of the harsh sanctions the U.N. Security Council has imposed on North Korea.
North Korea’s flag carrier, Air Koryo, has also scheduled a special flight to Vladivostok on Tuesday, April 23, according to a report from South Korean news agency KBS. That suggests the summit could take place the following day.
The timing would also coincide with Putin’s plans to travel to the Far East next week en route to China for its Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on April 27 and 28.
One of the diplomats who spoke to Izvestia, however, warned that Kim, as an “impulsive person,” could cause last-minute hitches.
After taking over as leader from his father in 2011, Kim didn’t leave the country until 2018. But in the space of 12 months, he has made seven overseas trips, four of them to China.
Earlier this year, Russia confirmed that talks were taking place to arrange a visit by Kim to Moscow. That announcement followed Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s trip to Pyongyang last year, just before Kim and President Donald Trump held their first summit in Singapore to discuss the possible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
If the Putin-Kim meeting does take place next week, it will come two months after Kim’s failed second summit with Trump, who walked away from the negotiating table in Hanoi in February.
Since then, talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled, and there’s been an increase in diplomatic activity between Russia and North Korea. As South Korea continues to push its economic ties to Russia, North Korean officials have held several high-profile meetings with counterparts from Russia to discuss closer economic links and finding ways around the crippling U.N. sanctions.
During a meeting in Pyongyang last week, North Korean officials reportedly pressed their Russian counterparts to continue to hire North Korean laborers despite the practice being banned.
Last year, Russia signed a trilateral statement with China and North Korea advocating for limited relief from U.N. sanctions for Pyongyang, and following next week’s apparent summit, Putin is expected to advocate for the need for a partial easing of sanctions against North Korea, according to the diplomats who spoke to Izvestia.
The reports of the Putin-Kim summit come just hours after the State Department announced that its special representative to Pyongyang, Stephen Biegun, will travel to Moscow this week to discuss “efforts to advance the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.”
Biegun is likely to press Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov to maintain sanctions against North Korea as a solution is sought to the denuclearization impasse.
Cover image: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends the 4th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)