MOSCOW — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un plans to meet President Vladimir Putin in Russia later this month, the Kremlin said Thursday, as Moscow looks to gain a greater role in the international outreach with Pyongyang.
For Kim, the planned summit is an opportunity to expand his options and potential leverage with both the United States and the North’s longtime ally, China.
Kim wants international sanctions eased as part of negotiations with the Trump administration over possibly rolling back North Korea’s nuclear program.
Just hours before the Kremlin’s statement, North Korean state media reported that Pyongyang was no longer interested in conducting negotiations with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and called for a representative who “is more careful and mature in communicating.”
Russia could also give Kim another potential economic lifeline after years of depending on China.
The announcement of the planned meeting between Kim and Putin comes after North Korea said it test-fired a new tactical guided weapon in its first public weapons test since the breakdown of a summit between President Trump and Kim in February.
In a short statement Thursday, the Kremlin said Putin invited Kim and that the North Korean leader will meet with him in the second half of April. No specific date was announced.
Russian news reports suggest the meeting will take place in Vladivostok on Russia’s Pacific coast, as Putin makes his way to a summit in Beijing.
The planned summit gives Putin another stage to project Russian influence. The Kremlin has tried for months to secure a meeting with Kim, while simultaneously ramping up diplomatic engagement with North Korea.
Russian outreach ramped up in May 2018 with the visit of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Pyongyang in the first high-level visit by a Russian official to North Korea since 2009. Over the past month, the Russian parliament has sent two delegations and Russian diplomats have been in daily consultations with North Korean officials.
Kim’s acceptance of Putin’s invitation appears to be part of a rebuke to Trump’s highest-level envoy.
It is unclear, however, what Putin could offer North Korea in terms of expanded economic cooperation and diplomatic backing in the U.N. Security Council. China remains the North’s main economic partner and its key backer on the world stage.
During the Soviet era, Moscow maintained close ties with Pyongyang, including providing weapons for the North Korean military.