Russian President Vladimir Putin has sat down for talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying the summit should help plan joint efforts to resolve a standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.
Speaking at the start of the talks on the Russky Island across a bridge from Vladivostok on Thursday, Putin voiced confidence that Kim’s visit will “help better understand what should be done to settle the situation on the Korean Peninsula, what we can do together, what Russia can do to support the positive processes going on now”.
Putin and Kim are meeting in Russia’s Far East for their first summit, with the North Korean leader looking for support in his nuclear stand-off with the United States.
The Russian leader landed in the Pacific coast port Vladivostok on Thursday, a day after Kim’s armoured train pulled in to the city’s Tsarist-era station.
The meeting is Kim’s first face-to-face talks with another head of state since returning from his Hanoi summit with US President Donald Trump, which broke down without a deal on North Korea’s nuclear arsenal in February.
Analysts say the Russia-North Korea summit scheduled for Thursday will serve as a reminder to Washington that the North Korean leader has other options in the region backing his leadership.
Kim will be looking for Russia’s support in easing sanctions imposed on Pyongyang over its nuclear programme, while Putin is keen to put Moscow forward as a player in another global flashpoint.
Arriving in Russia on Wednesday, Kim said he hoped for a “successful and useful” summit.
Kim has two urgent concerns as he heads to the summit – North Korean labourers in Russia and the food shortage in his country.
Around 10,000 North Korean labourers are still employed in Russia. All of them will have to leave the country by the end of the year as a 2017 UN sanctions resolution takes effect.
The labourers, who previously numbered as many as 50,000, provided Pyongyang with more than $500m in foreign exchange annually, according to documents seen by Reuters news agency.
“Maybe, the numbers will stop decreasing after Kim’s visit,” said Dmitry Zhuravlev, director general of the Institute of Regional Issues in Moscow.
The labourers’ presence is crucial in Russia’s underpopulated provinces that have plenty of fallow land, timber and natural resources but they are “large enough and there is enough room for the Koreans”, added Zhuravlev.
North Korea’s food shortage
Kim is also looking at the possibility of a food shortage in North Korea this summer. Russia has shown a willingness to provide humanitarian aid.
Last month, it announced it had shipped more than 2,000 tonnes of wheat to the North Korean port of Chongjin.
For Putin, the summit is a chance to push Russia’s agenda of opposing US international influence.
In an interview with China’s official People’s Daily published on Thursday, Putin lashed out at “countries claiming sole global leadership”.
“They carelessly trample on the norms and principles of international law, resort to blackmail, sanctions and pressure, and try to force their values and dubious ideals on entire countries and populations,” said Putin, who is heading to China after the talks for another summit.
The Vladivostok meeting follows repeated invitations from Putin since Kim embarked on a series of diplomatic overtures last year.
Since March 2018, the formerly reclusive North Korean leader has held four meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, three with South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, two with Trump and one with Vietnam’s president.
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