Kim Jong-Un may take his first ever foreign visit as Supreme Leader of North Korea, NK News reports citing a South Korean diplomatic source that spoke to the Yonhap News Agency.
Russian President Vladimir Putin invited Kim in December to Moscow next May to participate in the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. If Kim does accept Putin’s invitation, it will be his first foreign visit and also his first time meeting a foreign head of state since becoming North Korea’s Supreme Leader in 2011.
If Kim attends the ceremonies, the leader will be in a position to meet several foreign heads of state. Other leaders invited to the ceremony include US President Barack Obama and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, both of whom have refused to attend.
Both North Korea and Russia are sanctioned by much of Europe and the United States, and relations between the two are warming.
“Even if Pyongyang ultimately turns the invitation down politely, now would not be the time to do so as things are going well politically on that front at the moment,” North Korea watcher Chris Green told NK News.
Russia and North Korea are currently in the process of improving ties, which had cooled considerably since the fall of the Soviet Union. Moscow is seeking Pyongyang’s approval to build a gas pipeline through North Korea to customers in South Korea.
Likewise, Pyongyang is seeking support from Russia, a veto-holding member of the UN Security Council, to shield the country against a referral to the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity. North Korea, whose hugely restrictive economic and social policies triggered a catastrophic famine in the 1990s, is also seeking to rent and farm 10,000 hectares of agricultural land in Russia.
The developing relationship between North Korea and Russia is likely forged out of necessity. China, North Korea’s principal ally, has started ridiculing an ever-recalcitrant Pyongyang through its state-run media.
Pyongyang is also deeply isolated in the aftermath of the Sony hacks, which the US has unequivocally blamed on North Korea.
Russia is also under western sanctions in the aftermath of its annexation of Crimea and support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. By befriending North Korea and gaining increased leverage in the Korean peninsula, Russia stands to gain even more influence in a region that’s already thorny for the US and in spite of western attempts to keep the country diplomatically and economically isolated.
As of Jan. 13, the Russian embassy in Pyongyang could not confirm that Kim would visit Moscow.
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