Kim Jong-un Meets with Vladimir Putin on Denuclearization and Sanctions
On April 23, 2019, the Kremlin confirmed that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would visit Vladivostok, Russia’s bastion and Pacific port in the Far East, for his first summit with President Vladimir Putin. This meeting, scheduled for April 25, comes approximately two months after the collapse of the talks between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi that resulted in neither agreement nor significant progress regarding the dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear program.
However, according to Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s foreign policy aide, neither of the two leaders have plans to make any concrete join statements or sign any agreements.
When Kim arrived in Vladivostok by armored train on April 24, he was greeted warmly by the Russian president; both leaders shook hands in preparation for the two days of discussion in Russia’s Far Eastern University. Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported that Russian engineers were obliged to to “urgently dig up” the Vladivostok railway station gates and make them 20 centimeters deeper to accommodate Kim’s limousine.
For Russia, the summit marked a chance to prove its global diplomacy, despite numerous efforts by the United States and its allies to isolate Russia diplomatically. Putin, who is notorious for being late to arrive at summits and international meetings, showed up half an hour early at the venue prior to Kim’s arrival.
Kim told Russian state television that he was hoping his first visit would be “successful and useful”, citing his father’s “great love for Russia” as a bridge to strengthen ties between Russia and North Korea. Interactions between the two seemed amicable, with Kim bestowing a golden sword to Putin as a gift before they both dined on borscht, reindeer dumplings, and two choice selections of wine.
After his one-on-one meeting with Putin, Kim remarked, "The reason we visited Russia this time is to meet and share opinions with your excellency, President Putin, and also share views on the Korean Peninsula and regional political situation, which has garnered the urgent attention of the world, and also hold deep discussions on strategic ways to pursue stability in the regional political situation and on the matters of jointly managing the situation.” Additionally, local Russian media reported that Kim mentioned he was “happy to be on Russian soil.”
With regards to the United States, Putin maintained his prior position of welcoming Trump’s meetings and highly anticipated talks with Kim. However, he also reiterated that the United States ought to play a more active role in easing Pyongyang’s security concerns.
Putin mentioned his concerns as aligning with that of the United States, stating that Russia has its hesitations about North Korea being a nuclear state. Unlike Trump’s “all-or-nothing” approach concerning denuclearization and sanctions relief, however, Putin preferred a long negotiation process that builds “mutual confidence with Washington and Seoul” and opted to steer the topic of conversation towards stabilizing the situation in Pyongyang.
The Russian leader offered his help and support in regards to normalizing North Korea’s relationship with the United States, adding that the outcome of the summit should provide Russia with more information on how to best support negotiations on the Korean Peninsula. In return, Kim congratulated Putin on winning another six-year term in the 2018 election.
At the conclusion of the summit, Kim said that he had a “candid and meaningful” conversation about the maintenance of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. Putin opined that Pyongyang was ready to proceed towards complete denuclearization but only after receiving “serious security guarantees” to do so.
From the other side of the 38th parallel, South Korea responded positively to the developments at the Putin-Kim summit. South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s office issued a statement praising the meeting for having a “constructive role” in efforts to achieve complete denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, with the hope that it will “lay a foundation for the resumption of North Korea-U.S. talks and the promotion of denuclearization process on the Korean Peninsula.” Additionally, while meeting a visiting Russian security official, Moon praised Putin’s efforts to resolve the deadlock diplomatically and invited the Russian President to visit Seoul.
Putin told reporters after the summit that he would relay all the information regarding the talks to Washington, saying that “there are no secrets here, no conspiracies… Chairman Kim himself asked us to inform the American side of our position.”