Home News North Korea's Kim will go to the Putin summit to win

North Korea's Kim will go to the Putin summit to win

FILE - This combination file photo shows Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met in St. Petersburg (Russia) on April 9, 2019, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who left Putin for his first one-to-one interview on February 28, 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam , after the failure of his second summit with US President Donald Trump in February 2019, will have a long wish list and a strong desire for victory.

FILE – This combination file photo shows Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met in St. Petersburg (Russia) on April 9, 2019, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who left Putin for his first one-to-one interview on February 28, 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam , after the failure of his second summit with US President Donald Trump in February 2019, will have a long wish list and a strong desire for victory.

AP photo

TOKYO

When North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets for his first personal meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he will have a long-awaited wish to win after failing his second summit with President Donald Trump.

However, it is not clear how much Putin can or wants to do this.

Despite a relationship based on the founding of North Korea, relations between Pyongyang and Moscow have not always been the image of camaraderie or even particularly close.

A look at what Kim hopes to get out of his stealthy North and why he may want to mess things up while his talks with the US and the parallel campaign to win massive investments from South Korea have come to a standstill:

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KIM'S WISH LIST

Kim has two urgent worries as he heads to the summit.

More than 10,000 North Korean workers still employed in Russia, many of them in the timber industry in the Far East of Russia, will be dismissed by the end of this year as a US sanctions resolution enters into force in 2017. The workers, who counted up to 50,000 people, have provided a source of revenue estimated by hundreds of millions of US officials who would like to continue the Kim regime.

Kim is also considering the possibility of a food shortage this summer. Russia has shown its willingness to provide humanitarian aid and it was only last month that it announced that it had transported more than 2,000 tons of wheat to the North Korean port of Chongjin.

But his decision to put Putin on trial more actively goes no doubt deeper.

Despite all the talk of denuclearization in Washington, Kim's main concern is to improve his country's economy. Following the collapse of his summit in February with Trump in Hanoi, his efforts to circumvent sanctions that keep him from falling into a dead end.

North Korea has long been dependent on China as its main trading partner. But this trust and the associated influence on Beijing makes many officials in Pyongyang nervous.

Kim has also strongly urged Seoul to engage in joint inter-Korean projects to rebuild its railroad and improve its moribund infrastructure. However, his appeal to the Korean unit met with southern loyalty to Washington, which warned Seoul against any action that would undermine the sanctions.

According to internal documents of a South Korean researcher, which was published in a Japanese newspaper this week, Kim wants to increase trade with Russia tenfold by 2020 – to 1 billion US dollars.

Of course, this would require a considerable reduction in sanctions, which seems unlikely. It would also require a change in Russian behavior.

Unlike China, which has many local business people in North Korea, Russia has a very small presence in the north. Officials have long talked about big projects – including railways to Europe or pipelines on the Korean peninsula – but Putin has shown little interest in their implementation.

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WHY NOW?

The Kim Putin meeting, whose exact date has not yet been announced, comes surprisingly late into the game.

It has been nearly a year and a half since Kim announced his plan to break away from relative isolation in his own country and to develop diplomatic relations with China and South Korea, as well as discussing denuclearization with Washington.

Since then he has held four summits with Chinese President Xi Jinping, three with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and two with Trump.

The summit has done much to establish Kim on the world stage as a serious player.

However, the Hanoi summit showed its limits. It did not conclude with any agreement on denuclearization measures or the lifting of sanctions, which are now even more difficult to achieve as both sides seek persistent bargaining positions.

Kim's decision to meet with Putin now could reflect his frustration.

Putin has more experience with North Korea's leaders than most. He visited Pyongyang in 2000 and met with Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, in 2001 in Moscow and in 2011 in Vladivostok.

Moscow played an important role in bringing Kim's grandfather Kim Il Sung to power and helped rebuild the country after the 1950-53 Korean War. These ties broke after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and Russia's decision to end support for former Soviet allies in the midst of their own economic collapse.

Like Kim, Putin is not an admirer of Washington using sanctions as a political tool. Even a cautious declaration of solidarity with the North or a refutation of Washington's policy of "maximum pressure" would be a win for Kim.

But Putin has a lot on his plate and a good reason to be wary of big new commitments.

Especially he does not want to upset China. Immediately after his visit to Kim, Putin will travel to Beijing for an important international meeting on China's Belt and Road initiative, which could be lucrative for Russia.

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WHAT'S NEXT?

If Putin chooses North Korea, Washington's efforts to focus on denuclearization could become much more complicated.

He has already spoken out against Trump's sanction-centric approach.

It is also in Putin's general interest to weaken Washington's influence in the region – although Russia, like China, does not want a chaotic collapse in the north, which would provoke a wave of refugees and economic instability.

So, what is the end result?

Even if he does not intend to immediately change his policy towards Pyongyang, the meeting with Kim offers a good opportunity for Putin to assert himself as a player in a contest for political influence that is at his own limit.

And for Kim, given the pressure from Washington, which is unlikely to ease soon, it makes sense to keep all options open.

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