Though no tangible agreement or joint-communique was issued, Kim's meeting with Putin in Vladivostok on April 25 has renewed historical relationships and understanding between Pyongyang and Moscow.
After multiple summits with US President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean leader Moon Jae-in, it was Kim's first high-level meeting with President Putin since he assumed office in 2011. He expected to realise three primary goals: (a) to strengthen ties with Moscow; (b) to build support for his standoff with Washington, and (c) to strike deals for economic activities in his country.
Kim and Putin discussed a variety of issues including security of the Korean Peninsula, the denuclearisation issue, and bilateral economic cooperation. The two leaders also recalled their long history of relationship between the two countries that dates back to Kim's grandfather Kim II Sung.
After the summit, Vladimir Putin commented that he and Kim had "substantial discussion." The official transcript revealed that President Putin underscored the importance of international law. While Putin himself flouts international order, he emphasised that global crises should be resolved through diplomacy, international rules and regulations, and not "by force."
On the other hand, Kim said, he had a "very meaningful" and substantive discussion with Putin. Analysts believe the summit was an occasion for Moscow to show its 'proactive' role in global stage. Kim also wanted to show Moscow's support for his nation.
Kim's meeting with Putin took place less than two months after his second summit with President Donald Trump in Hanoi. The summit collapsed because of disagreements over US-led sanctions on North Korea. Kim had emphasised that harsh economic sanction hurting the economy should be lifted to support the denuclearisation process. Moscow earlier also called for easing international sanctions to help resolve the nuclear deadlock. Probably, that shared perception also inspired Kim to undertake the summit with Putin.
Furthermore, apart from China, North Korea needed one more veto-wielding power at the UN Security Council. Thus, Jeong Young-tae, a political analyst at the Institute of North Korean Studies in Seoul remarked, "It's part of the North's Juche - self-reliance - ideology not to rely on a single ally." North Korea does not want to become over-dependent on the camaraderie of US, China, and South Korea to safeguard its security interests.
While talking to the media after the summit, Putin said he would transmit the outcomes of the meeting to President Xi Jinping of China as well as to the Trump administration. Putin also pointed out that the security pledges ought to be supported by Russia, China, South Korea, Japan as well as the United States and North Korea.
In fact, Kim himself requested Putin to appraise the US about his position, about the dismal situation in the Korean Peninsula, including the issues of denuclearisation and sanctions. He also underlined that peace and security in the Korean Peninsula depends on the United States.
It may be mentioned here that in the past, Russia took part in the Chinese-led six-party dialogues to urge North Korea to dismantle its nuclear programme in exchange for economic aid and credible security guarantees. But North Korea pulled out from the negotiation table in 2009, foiling diplomatic efforts.
During the Cold War, Moscow maintained military and economic relations with its communist ally, North Korea, because of ideological, strategic and geopolitical reasons. It helped construct industrial units and built infrastructure, and provided weaponry for North Korea. However, the partnership faded after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990.
Currently, roughly 10 thousand labourers from North Korea are working in Russia. The volume of bilateral trade between the two countries dropped to about $34 million in 2018 due to economic sanctions.
Presently, along with strong political influence, China remains the leading trading partner and vital fuel supplier for North Korea. Trade between China and North Korea was valued at $2.43 billion in 2018.
Kim apparently sought to balance Beijing's political and economic influence over his country. While Kim and Putin promised to step up political and economic ties, no major aid commitment was made by Putin.
Although Putin reaffirmed the importance of denuclearisation, analysts think, the long-awaited meeting was "symbolic" and friendly one as it did not lead to any breakthrough on the road to denuclearisation and withdrawal of sanctions. The burning question of denuclearisation remains. To put it bluntly, the nuclear standoff between Washington and Pyongyang will linger on unless both sides discard their rigid and unbending policy and narcissism.
Dr. Kamal Uddin Ahmed is a former Professor and Chairman, Department of Political Science, University of Dhaka.
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