MOSCOW — Kim Jong Un arrived in Russia Wednesday ahead of the North Korean leader’s first-ever talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a meeting designed by both sides to send Washington the message that there are other players when it comes to dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program.
In the morning in Russia’s Far East, Kim’s armored train pulled up to the border town of Khasan, where he was greeted by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov, before being given a traditional ceremonial welcome by a group of women offering him a round loaf of bread and salt.
“I’ve heard so many good things about your country and have long dreamed of visiting,” said Kim, according to Interfax news agency. “I’ve led my country for already seven years, and have only now been able to visit Russia.”
His train later pulled into the Russian port city of Vladivostok, where he will meet Putin on Thursday — two months after his second summit with President Trump collapsed in Hanoi.
The Kremlin has said no major agreements will be signed nor joint statements planned during Kim’s meeting with Putin, which is expected to take place behind closed doors.
This has not stopped pomp and ceremony from surrounding Kim’s inaugural visit to Russia. In Vladivostok, a military orchestra played when his train pulled into the station. The North Korean leader is also expected to tour the headquarters of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, the city’s aquarium and stop by a bread factory to sample its products, state media reported.
Kim is eager to save face after the breakdown in talks on his country’s nuclear program with Trump.
For Putin, the summit will offer him another chance to intervene in high-stakes nuclear talks and flex Russia’s muscles on the global stage, where Moscow is increasing its diplomatic clout.
“I hope Putin makes clear that Russia is ready to support a deal, but first you need a deal. A cart before the horse,” said Alexander Vershbow, distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center on Strategy and Security in Washington.
Russia has not ruled out changing its previous position and asking that economic sanctions on North Korea be lifted. Wary of a possible Russian turnaround, the State Department sent its envoy for North Korea, Steve Biegun, to Moscow last week to push for the country’s full denuclearization.
In response, Russian officials said they would expel North Korean laborers in December when their residence permits expire, potentially limiting a key source of cash revenue for the North, people familiar with the discussions said.
Like Beijing, Moscow does not want to create regime change in Pyongyang, which could potentially wreak havoc in the area, inviting more U.S. influence.
But there is also some illicit business, primarily transfers of Russian oil, and Cold War era ties between Moscow and Pyongyang that the government in Russia may not be willing to relinquish. Last year, Russia secretly offered North Korea a nuclear power plant in exchange for dismantling its nuclear arsenal.
Simon Denyer in Seoul and John Hudson in Washington contributed to this report.