Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
Kim Jong Il (Kim Cho’ng-il) arrived in Khasan, in Russia’s Far East on Saturday (20 August), his first trip to Russia since 2002. In an unusual move, KCNA reported KJI’s trip just prior to his departure from the DPRK, although it did not state whether this visit is “unofficial:
Chairman Kim Jong Il of the National Defence Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will pay an unofficial visit to Siberia and Far Eastern region of the Russian Federation at the invitation of Dmitri Anatoliyevich Medvedev, president of the Russian Federation.
During the visit the top leaders of the two countries will have a meeting.
During what is said to be a week-long trip, KJI (once known as Yura) is expected to travel to Ussuriysk and then Ulan Ude where Izvestia reports he will meet with Medvedev. Yonhap, via Korea Times, reports:
Kim visited the Russian Far East in 2002 after making a 24-day trip to Moscow and other Russian cities in July 2001.
The reclusive leader traveled to China in May for the third visit to his country’s closest ally in just over a year.
Kim is expected to visit a dam in Ussuriysk, 112 kilometers north of Vladivostok, after leaving Khasan, according to other sources well informed on relations between North Korea and Russia.
If Kim visits the Russian dam facilities, the two countries are then expected to open discussions on enhancing bilateral cooperation in energy.
Earlier in the day, an informed source in Moscow said Kim will hold summit talks with Medvedev in Ulan-Ude, the third-largest city in eastern Siberia, on Tuesday.
In this regard, a Russian Far Eastern news agency reported that the North Korean leader is expected to directly head to Ulan-Ude, located near Lake Baikal, to meet with Medvedev without stopping in other Russian cities.
There have been increasing DPRK-Russian interactions in recent weeks. On 26 July, the Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries hosted a “friendship meeting” which commemorated KJI’s 2001 trip to the Federation and “the adoption of the DPRK-Russia Moscow Declaration.” On 28 July, in a commemoration of the same event, an exhibition was opened at the Pyongyang Center for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries. At the same time, two documentary films about KJI’s Russian trips were screened at Taedongmun Cinema in Pyongyang. On 14 August DPRK media reported that KJI received a telegram from Medvedev on the occasion of the Korean Peninsula’s liberation that said, “History has proved the solidity of friendship between the people of our two countries. We are willing to expand cooperation with the DPRK in all directions of mutual interest, including a trilateral plan among Russia, the DPRK and the ROK in the fields of gasification, energy, and railway construction.”
This does not account for the various food aid commitments made by Russia in recent weeks. During May 2011, Kim Jong Il received former Russian Premier and current SVR chief, Mikhail Fradkov, and a small delegation during a brief stop in the DPRK. From June through July, Kim Kyong Hui (Kim Kyo’ng-hu’i) visited Russia. At the end of June the DPRK’s ambassador in Moscow, Kim Yong Jae (Kim Yo’ng-ch’ae) met with Gazprom Chairman Alexei Miller, and this interaction was followed up in July by Gazprom executives visiting the DPRK where they met with Cabinet officials, including Vice Premier and foreign policy boss Kang Sok Ju (Kang So’k-chu).
RT reports about KJI’s upcoming interactions with Russian officials:
The agenda for the meeting between the two heads of state is expected to include issues tied to further energy co-operation between the two countries, the protracted negotiations on denuclearization, and tensions between South and North Korea.
Another major issue on the table for discussion are plans to build a gas pipeline from Russia’s Far East through North Korea to South Korea, believes Georgy Toloraya, Director of Korean Studies in Russian Academy of Science.
The Russian gas giant, Gazprom, is already in talks with North Korean officials about the plans. However, in a trip to Moscow earlier this month, South Korea’s foreign minister said his country would only support the project if there were guarantees that the North would honor its obligations and not use the pipe to put pressure on the South.
Toloraya believes Kim Jong Il could give such guarantees during the meeting with President Medvedev. “On the one hand, such a project would increase trust and stability between two Koreas. On the other hand, it would help North Korea to be more self- sufficient in energy and so [make its behaviour] more predictable,” Toloraya added.
He also believes transit gas from Russia would “diminish [North Korea’s] need for nuclear power production even for peaceful purposes, so it could be another argument for full denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”