VLADIVOSTOK, Russia – North Korean leader Kim Jong-un arrived in Vladivostok on Wednesday in the Russian far east, where he will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time in the hope of finding an ally on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
Speaking shortly after crossing the North Korean-Russian border and stopping at the town of Jasan, Kim said: “I hope that this visit will be successful and useful, and I hope that during the talks with President Vladimir Putin, he can address the issues related to solving the problems of the Korean peninsula and the development of our relations.”
He praised Russia, a country that he said his father Kim Jong-Il “loved” and visited three times in 2001, 2002 and 2011.
The North Korean leader is due to have his first meeting with Putin this Thursday at the Far Eastern Federal University, on Russky Island.
Kim was received with military honors at the railway station in Vladivostok, in the first visit he has made to Russia since he came to power in 2011.
Putin had to wait four years to meet him and the North Korean leader only agreed after receiving a formal invitation in May.
Kim also met with US President Donald Trump in Singapore last year, which was their first meeting and the first between leaders of North Korea and the US.
His Russian trip, which comes two months after a failed second appointment with Trump in Hanoi, is a way for Putin to demonstrate that Moscow remains a relevant global player and retains some influence in the peninsula.
The Russian president has worked since 2000 to repair ties with North Korea, which were seriously damaged under the leadership of the last president of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the first president of Russia, Boris Yeltsin.
The previous Russian leaders were more inclined towards South Korea and for applying hardness to Pyongyang over its nuclear program.
Russia, which was part of six-party talks for the denuclearization process of North Korea, which also includes both Korean nations, the US, Japan and China and lasted from 2003 to 2009, has offered on several occasions to act as a mediator between Seoul and Pyongyang.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, described as “incorrect” information that the Russian president intends to ask Kim to return to the dialogue of the six powers, but said that “at this time there are no other effective international mechanisms.”
“And therefore, of course, distancing completely from this format is impossible,” he added while stressing that “any effort to denuclearize the Korean peninsula and normalize relations” between Seoul and Pyongyang deserves support.
For Kim, the visit has an important symbolic value because his meeting with Putin demonstrates to Trump that he has other interlocutors besides the tenant of the White House and its main supporter, China, with whose president, Xi Jinping, he has met several times in the last year.
Russia and China have maintained a common position on the nuclear issue because both want the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and therefore have supported the sanctions of the UN Security Council when Pyongyang challenged the international community with new evidence.
But they have always considered that cornering the North was counterproductive and have advocated for relief during the stages in which there was some progress in nuclear negotiations.
Putin also favors gradual nuclear disarmament and, along with Xi, with whom he will meet this Friday in Beijing, insists on the need to offer North Korea guarantees of security and reciprocity measures in exchange for denuclearization.
Trump, on the other hand, wants Pyongyang to eliminate its nuclear, missile and chemical and biological weapons programs before offering concessions to Kim.
Whatever support the North Korean leader expects of Putin, he does not seem to be in the business of violating Security Council resolutions.
Kim wants North Korean citizens working in Russia, of which there are around 11,000, to remain in the country because they produce substantial income but Russia has already said that by the end of this year they will have to leave the country in accordance with a resolution of the UN Security Council.