Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un may finally be ready to meet for the first time, as Russia seeks to extend its influence and North Korea tries to hedge its bets after the failed summit with President Trump.
The potential of closer ties between Putin and Kim carries historical resonance dating back to the countries’ Cold War bonds. But Moscow has bigger diplomatic priorities around the world, experts say, and is unlikely to disrupt U.S.-led efforts to pressure North North to unwind its nuclear program.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said this week that preparations were underway for a meeting, while Russian and South Korean newspapers said the pair may meet in Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East next week, as Putin makes his way to a summit on China’s Belt and Road initiative in Beijing.
In a sign of Moscow’s growing relevance, U.S. envoy Stephen Biegun is holding talks with Russian officials in Moscow on Wednesday and Thursday “to discuss efforts to advance the final, fully verified the denuclearization of North Korea,” according to the State Department.
For Kim, a summit with Putin would be another step in the international rehabilitation of the once-ostracized leader. It would also be Kim’s chance to send a signal to both Washington and Beijing that he has other options.
For Putin, a summit would mark another milestone in his effort to show Russians — and the world — that he has brought his country back as a global diplomatic power.
“Russia wants to be the groom at every wedding and the dead man at every funeral,” said Georgy Kunadze, a retired Russian diplomat in East Asia.
But it wasn’t clear, he said, what Russia could deliver since it “will never vote on North Korea at the U.N. Security Council differently from the way China votes.”