Putin to Meet North Korea's Kim in Russia in April, Kremlin Says

(Bloomberg) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will travel to Russia for his first meeting with President Vladimir Putin later this month, the Kremlin said Thursday.

Confirmation of the visit follows speculation that Kim would soon reach out to a long-time ally after failing to get sanctions relief during his last nuclear talks with U.S. President Donald Trump in February. The Kremlin statement gave no date or location for the meeting, though there have been reports it could take place next week as Putin travels to China.

The visit will be the North Korean leader’s first to Russia since taking power in 2011 and comes after Kim gave a lengthy speech in which he said he would give the U.S to the end of this year to come up with new proposals for future talks. Kim has been calling for an end to sanctions intended to punish North Korea for its nuclear weapons program. The penalties were a major factor in the Feb. 28 collapse of his summit in Vietnam with Trump, whose administration wants the regime to make greater disarmament commitments before it gets relief.

Russia, which wields veto power on the United Nations Security Council, has expressed repeated support for reducing sanctions since North Korea opened nuclear talks last year. The U.S. and its allies have balked at allowing projects currently blocked by sanctions and long sought by North Korea -- such as an energy pipeline from Russia and regular train service across their shared border -- until Pyongyang agrees to reduce its security threat.

Not Isolated

By visiting Russia, Kim is trying to demonstrate to the U.S. that he is not isolated, if matters don’t work out with Trump, said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert and professor at Kookmin University in Seoul. Kim and Putin will probably discuss ways to get around UN restrictions on hiring North Korean workers abroad and other potential economic support, Lankov said.

“Most probably, it won’t yield anything as Russia has no intentions to invest in North Korea significantly,” Lankov said.

The meeting would mark the first summit between top leaders of the neighboring countries since Kim’s late father, Kim Jong Il, met then-President Dmitry Medvedev in 2011. The elder Kim visited Russia three times including earlier trips in 2001 and 2002 while Putin traveled to North Korea in 2000.

Ties between the Soviet Union and then Russia with North Korea run deep. The Soviet Union helped train Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, and set him up as its leader. Some analysts contend that the current leader’s father was born in the Soviet Union rather than under a double rainbow at a secret rebel camp on North Korea’s celebrated Mount Paektu, as Pyongyang’s propaganda machine maintains.

While the North Korean leader visited Chinese President Xi Jinping ahead of his two summits with Trump, he didn’t stop in Beijing during his return by train from talks with Trump.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.