North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday at a summit designed to show that Washington is not the only power able to set the agenda on Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.
The two men will sit down together on an island off the Russian Pacific city of Vladivostok two months after Kim’s summit with US President Donald Trump ended in disagreement, cooling hopes of a breakthrough in the decades-old nuclear row.
The summit in Vladivostok – the first ever between Putin and Kim – provides Pyongyang with an opportunity to seek support from a new quarter, Russia, and possible relief from the sanctions hurting its economy.
For the Kremlin, the summit is a chance to show it is a global diplomatic player, despite efforts by the United States and other Western states to isolate it.
But with Moscow committed to upholding sanctions until the North dismantles its nuclear programme, analysts said the summit was unlikely to produce any tangible help for Pyongyang, beyond a show of camaraderie.
In an interview with Russian state television as his train made a stop off on the journey to Vladivostok, Kim said he was looking forward to useful talks.
“I hope that we can discuss concrete questions about peace negotiations on the Korean peninsula, and our bilateral relations,” he said through an interpreter.
Kim Jong Un, making his first trip to Russia as North Korean leader, arrived at the train station in Vladivostok on Wednesday on board an armoured train – his preferred mode of international transport.
After a brief delay while the train had to be repositioned to line up with the red carpet laid out on the platform, he disembarked and headed in a convoy of limousines and minivans across a bridge linking mainland Vladivostok to Russky island, the summit venue. Putin has yet to arrive in Vladivostok.
Putin’s last summit with a North Korean leader was in 2002 when his counterpart was Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un’s father and predecessor. Kim Jong Il also met in 2011 with Dmitry Medvedev, the Putin lieutenant who was then Russian president.
There was heightened security around Vladivostok in preparation for the summit, with an unusually heavy police presence, especially at the university campus on Russky island where the talks will take place.
Classes were still in progress on Wednesday but students were having their documents checked on the way in, and vehicles were no longer allowed to enter the campus. The Russian and North Korean flags fluttered from lamp-posts around the university.