North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s reported journey to Russia has sparked international interest and speculation about a potential meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. While both nations have yet to officially confirm the meeting, the timing and context of these reports have captured the world’s attention. In this article, we will delve into the details surrounding this possible encounter and its implications on the global stage.
The Unconfirmed Meeting
As multiple South Korean media outlets reported, Kim Jong Un seems to be en route to Russia, with government officials as the sources. However, neither Russia nor North Korea has officially acknowledged this meeting.
Putin’s Arrival in Vladivostok
On the other hand, Putin’s arrival in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok adds intrigue to the situation. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov mentioned this development, as reported by Russia 24, a state TV channel.
US Officials’ Warning
Last week, US officials issued a warning regarding the expected meeting between Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin. This announcement coincides with ongoing arms negotiations between the two countries. However, specifics regarding the meeting’s date and location remain elusive.
Kim’s First Foreign Trip Since the Pandemic
If this visit materializes, it will mark Kim’s first foreign trip since the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted international travel. North Korea, having sealed its borders for much of the past three years, has only recently begun to ease travel restrictions.
Kim’s Limited Foreign Trips
Kim Jong Un’s international travels have been relatively infrequent. Since assuming power in 2011, this potential meeting with Putin would only be his 10th foreign trip. Notably, most of his overseas engagements occurred in 2018 and 2019, primarily focused on negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs.
The Diplomatic Journeys
During this period, Kim engaged in three meetings with then-US President Donald Trump, with venues including Singapore, Hanoi, and the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea. He also visited China four times to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and had one previous meeting with Putin in Vladivostok in April 2019. His remaining foreign trip was to the DMZ in 2018 to meet with then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Proximity of Vladivostok to North Korea
Vladivostok’s location, just 130 km (80 miles) from the North Korean border, makes it a convenient meeting point for leaders from both countries.
Modes of Travel
Kim Jong Un has exhibited flexibility in his choice of travel modes. While he often prefers an upscale armored train, following in his father’s footsteps, less than half of his foreign trips involved rail travel. He utilized planes for three of his nine trips and cars for two, both times to reach the DMZ.
Russian Interactions with North Korea
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s visit to Pyongyang in July aimed to persuade North Korea to sell artillery ammunition, highlighting Russia’s ongoing engagement with the reclusive nation.
US Warnings and Sanctions
Last Tuesday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan issued a warning, cautioning North Korea against striking an arms deal with Russia. He hinted at potential repercussions, although he did not elaborate. It’s crucial to note that North Korea is already subject to United Nations and US sanctions due to its weapons of mass destruction program.
Implications of a Potential Meeting
The possible meeting between Putin and Kim Jong Un carries significant implications. It could provide North Korea access to weapons that sanctions have prohibited for two decades, particularly in the context of its nuclear-capable ballistic missile program.
Russia’s Military Situation
This development also occurs amidst Russia’s involvement in over a year and a half of conflict in Ukraine, a situation that has strained the Russian military, leaving it in dire need of supplies.