Russian President Vladimir Putin sat down for talks Thursday with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying the summit should help plan joint efforts to resolve a standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
Speaking at the start of the talks at a university on the Russky Island across a bridge from Vladivostok, 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.”
Kim’s first trip to Russia comes about two months after his second summit with President Donald Trump failed because of disputes over US-led sanctions on the North. Putin meanwhile wants to expand Russia’s clout in the region and get more leverage with Washington.
“We welcome your efforts to develop an inter-Korean dialogue and normalize North Korea’s relations with the United States,” Putin told Kim.
For his part, Kim noted that with the world’s attention now concentrated on the Korean Peninsula, “I think we will have a very meaningful dialogue on sharing our opinions on this matter while also jointly apprising and studying it.”
Kim, whose government has told the United Nations it is facing food shortfalls this year, will be keen to see Moscow continue or boost its aid.
Russia has provided some $25 million in food aid to North Korea in recent years, according to the Kremlin. One delivery in March saw more than 2,000 tonnes of wheat supplied to the port of Chongjin, news agency TASS reported.
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.
At the meeting with Trump in Hanoi, the cash-strapped North demanded immediate relief from sanctions, but the talks broke up in disagreement over what Pyongyang was prepared to give up in return.
North Korea last week launched a blistering attack on US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, insisting he be removed from the negotiations just hours after announcing it had carried out a new weapons test.
Pompeo said on Wednesday he expected “bumpy” talks ahead with Pyongyang but that he still hoped to reach a potentially landmark denuclearization deal.
Russia has already called for the sanctions to be eased, while the US has accused it of trying to help Pyongyang evade some of the measures — accusations Russia denies.
The Kremlin has said the focus of Thursday’s talks will be on finding “a political and diplomatic solution to the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula” but that no joint statement or signing of agreements was planned.
Moscow was a crucial backer of Pyongyang for decades and their ties go back to the founding of North Korea, when the Soviet Union installed Kim’s grandfather Kim Il Sung as a leader.
The USSR reduced funding to the North as it began to seek reconciliation with Seoul in the 1980s, but Pyongyang was hit hard by its demise in 1991.
Soon after his first election as Russian president, Putin sought to normalize relations and met Kim Jong Il — the current leader’s father and predecessor — three times, including a 2002 meeting also held in Vladivostok.
China has since cemented its role as the isolated North’s most important ally, its largest trading partner and crucial fuel supplier, and analysts say Kim could be looking to balance Beijing’s influence.
While ties between Moscow and Pyongyang have remained cordial, the last meeting between their leaders came in 2011, when Kim Jong Il told then-president Dmitry Medvedev that he was prepared to renounce nuclear testing.
His son has since overseen by far the country’s most powerful blast to date, and launch of missiles which Pyongyang says are capable of reaching the entire US mainland.