TOKYO • Kim Jong-un (picture) rumbled into Vladivostok yesterday aboard his armoured train, looking for a friend to help him through a rough patch with US President Donald Trump — Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Wearing a black overcoat, Kim stepped onto a red carpet a day before his planned meeting with Putin for his first summit with the Russian leader since coming to power in 2011.
The trip — coming almost a year after Russia’s invitation — appeared timed to show that Kim has alternative sources of support after his failed meeting with Trump in Hanoi left North Korea with no clear path to escape a US-led international economic embargo.
While Putin has little money to share and is unlikely to make any moves that could violate sanctions or create another dispute with the US, Kim may have to settle for Russian pledges of diplomatic and economic support.
But the two leaders don’t plan to make any joint statements or sign agreements, according to Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s foreign policy aide.
Kim said the summit will be a “starting point for productive talks on cooperation”, Vesti TV reported him as saying in an interview. Below are some of what Kim wants:
Diplomatic lifeline. Much has changed since Joseph Stalin helped Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, set up the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the aftermath of World War II, including the Soviet Union’s collapse and China’s emergence as North Korea’s main benefactor.
Putin has preserved some Russian influence on the Korean Peninsula, hosting North Korean workers and participating in six-nation nuclear talks, but has so far not met Kim.
Both Kim and Putin have something to gain by meeting now.
Kim wants to protect the diplomatic profile he built during a series of unprecedented trips abroad last year and demonstrate to Trump that he has friends beyond just China.
For the Kremlin, the meeting is a chance to show Russia’s still a player in a major global issue where it’s been largely upstaged by China and the US. “It’s thanks to the Korea issue that there’s been some positive movement in the US-Russian relationship,” said Georgy Toloraya, head of the Centre for Asian Strategy at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Sanctions relief. Russia has largely followed China’s lead on sanctions, joining Beijing to support United Nations (UN) penalties when Kim was testing weapons of mass destruction and urging relief after he stopped.
Putin’s veto on the UN Security Council (UNSC) could give him leverage to chip away at some sanctions on the grounds that they’re violating intended protections against “adverse humanitarian consequences”.
Still, Russia has pledged to abide by UNSC resolutions and there’s no sign Putin would take the risk of violating them.
Transportation links. Decades of sanctions, stagnation and excessive military spending have left North Korea’s infrastructure in bad shape.
And Russia, which shares a 17km border with the country, wants it upgraded to gain access to the North and South Korean markets.
Kim has sought to improve his rail system, which could carry South Korean goods to China and Europe and provide broader access to an estimated US$6 trillion (RM24.78 trillion) in mineral resources, according to a 2013 estimate by the North Korea Resources Institute in Seoul. — Bloomberg