Adding clarity to previous speculation, a Russian presidential spokesman has confirmed that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will be making his first official foreign visit later this year to Russia. Kim, who has yet to make an official foreign visit since taking over his father’s role, was confirmed to have been invited to Russia earlier this month when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that Kim had been invited to Russia to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the triumph of the USSR in the Second World War. Dmitry Peskov, the Russian presidential spokesman who confirmed Kim’s attendance, implied that other senior North Korean officials may be accompanying Kim on the trip.
As Shannon Tiezzi noted earlier on The Diplomat, Kim’s trip to Moscow will present an interesting scenario. Chinese President Xi Jinping has confirmed that he will be attending the Russian event in May as well. This means that Xi and Kim could have their first-ever face-to-face encounter in Moscow in four months time. This meeting will come at a time of strained relations between China and North Korea. Where China has historically been North Korea’s closest partner and benefactor, often standing up for the regime in the international community, over the past year, relations between the two countries have declined quite a bit. After the North Korean regime purged and executed Jang Song-taek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle and the regime’s erstwhile second-in-command, China and North Korea have fallen into a bit of a freeze. The decline in China-North Korea relations could be traced back even farther, to the North’s February 2013 nuclear test.
Kim’s attendance at the event will put Moscow in an interesting position as well. Moscow could potentially serve as a third-party intermediary between China and North Korea. As Georgy Toloraya over at 38 North noted, this could potentially give Moscow an opening to regain some international prestige by setting in motion the necessary momentum to allow for a return to the long-abandoned Six Party Talks on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. North Korea, as it has drifted away from China, has grown closer to Russia. Given Russia’s growing isolation from the west and economic woes, leading the international diplomatic process on North Korea’s nuclear program would be a major coup for Putin and the Russian government. Russia and China are eager to see a return to the Six Party Talks, but the United States has set preconditions that the North Korean regime is unwilling to accept.