It may not have produced an agreement, but the April 25 summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin – the two men’s first meeting – underlined Moscow’s ongoing interest in exploring economic cooperation with North Korea, experts interviewed by Current Time say.
“Based on the composition of people who took part in the expanded negotiations, it’s more or less obvious what they discussed,” said Konstantin Asmolov, a senior research fellow at the Center for Korean Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Far Eastern Studies. “First of all, bilateral cooperation in the economic-humanitarian sphere. How can we develop our ties, given that North Korea is under a de facto economic blockade? “
Transportation Minister Yevgeny Ditrikh, Far East And Arctic Development Minister Aleksandr Kozlov, Deputy Energy Minister Anatoly Yanovsky, and Russian Railways General Director Oleg Belozerov all participated in the summit, according to Russian media.
Aside from edging out China for access to North Korea’s mineral resources, Russia has its eye on a trans-Korean railway project to bolster trade between Russia and South Korea and construction of a gas pipeline from Russia to South Korea via North Korea, noted Aleksei Maslov, head of the international economics and affairs faculty at the Moscow-based Higher School of Economics’ School of Asian Studies.
He considers the meeting a “preliminary” get-together. Eventually, he predicted, the United Nations sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear-weapons program will be lifted, either in part or in full, and gaining a presence in the country’s market would be “very advantageous.”
For now, the two men likely “searched for some options for cooperation that would not come under sanctions,” Asmolov said.
The pending departure of several thousand North Korean labor migrants from Russia will cost North Korea tax revenue and Russia’s Far East a reliable supply of cheap labor, pointed out Seoul-based NK News analyst Fyodor Tertitsky. The United Nations Security Council has stipulated that all such workers must leave Russia by December 22.
In solo remarks to reporters after the discussions, however, Putin made no mention of these topics. He said the pair had discussed bilateral relations, the United Nations and its sanctions against North Korea for nuclear research, plus issues related to the U.S. and to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
Putin told reporters that Kim would relinquish North Korea’s nuclear weapons if the country receives adequate guarantees for its security. One observer, however, questions this.
“The presence of nuclear weapons significantly decreases the probability that North Korea will be attacked,” Seoul-based NK News analyst Fyodor Tertitsky commented to Current Time. “Moreover, it will be difficult to sell [the idea of disarmament] to the [North Korean] people,” he added.
Pyongyang likely hoped the meeting with Putin will give it leverage against the U.S. and, also, expand North Korea’s options for defense -- particularly after the failure of Kim’s February nuclear-disarmament talks with U.S. President Donald Trump., all three analysts found.
Nonetheless, Asmolov disputes the notion that the talks with Putin were arranged to pique Trump. Preparations for the trip began in the fall of 2018 – well before Kim’s failed summit with the U.S. president in Hanoi, the expert said.
Yet while the summit ended without an agreement, a part two could be in the offing.
Regional Governor Oleg Kozhemyako told reporters that Kim Jong-Un had promised to visit Vladivostok again, the TASS agency reported.