Preparations for the Putin – Kim summit took a lot of time. The invitation was sent in May 2018, and the preparation of the visit began in November. Both leaders needed to coordinate their schedules, and therefore the widespread point that Kim failed with Trump and rushed into Putin’s arms is incorrect, this is a biased position. In general, the Hanoi and Vladivostok summits had different goals and different models of interaction, writes Konstantin Asmolov, leading research fellow at the Korean Studies Center, RAS Institute for Far Eastern Studies.
In Soviet times, we could say about such a visit that it was held “in a warm and friendly atmosphere.” The parties were clearly satisfied with each other, and this author wants to draw attention to several important points regarding the visit.
First, the preparation of the summit took a lot of time. The invitation was sent in May 2018, and the preparation of the visit began in November. Both leaders needed to coordinate their schedules, and therefore the widespread point that Kim failed with Trump and rushed into Putin’s arms is incorrect, this is a biased position. In general, the Hanoi and Vladivostok summits had different goals and different models of interaction.
Second, from the very beginning it was known that the summit would be held without joint statements or signing of a declaration. It was supposed to be a working meeting when the parties exchange views on burning issues and discuss what can be done with the problems that irritate both Moscow and Pyongyang. However, many elements of a strategic discussion are probably not intended for publicity. Therefore, the point that the summit ended with nothing, is not correct, even if nothing was signed.
Third, we should pay attention to the fact that the tête-à-tête conversation continued twice as long as scheduled. This means that instead of formal communication, there was a lively discussion, which Vladimir Putin confirmed later. When asked at a press conference about Kim Jong-un, he pointed to the openness of the North Korean leader and his free communication style.
Further analysis of the press conference of the Russian president shows that there are many similar points in the positions of Moscow and Pyongyang. Both sides are concerned that the international law being replaced by the “rule of fist.” Both agree that dialogue means dialogue, not one-sided fulfillment of demands, and the disarmament of the DPRK should be gradual and in response to the US counter-moves. Both sides declare a course on denuclearization, but at the same time they wonder what the security guarantees should be if the DPRK is really disarmed. After all, this is one of the most important issues. Even if Kim and Trump really have a good personal relationship – it is a relationship between persons, not between countries. Is it worth signing an agreement with a man who can be out of power in less than two years, and then his successor from the Democrats or die-hard conservatives disavows these documents?
Meanwhile, Russia needs stability and detente on the Korean Peninsula. I would like to see the current state of affairs as long as possible. Dialogue is declared, Pyongyang and Washington refrain from steps exacerbating the situation, and the process looks like a snail’s step, but its direction is more important than speed.
In addition, Moscow and Pyongyang have a common position that the level of sanctions pressure should correspond to the “bad behavior of the country”, and Pyongyang’s efforts to defuse tensions, including a moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests, should be rewarded with some sanctions relaxation.
However, Washington believes that Kim was pushed to dialogue by the fear of further sanctions strengthening, and not by the goodwill of the DPRK leader. The United States is not going to weaken officially its main lever of pressure. At the moment, the level of sanctions is rapidly approaching that of a blockade, and that is why the second set of problems under discussion in the summit was devoted to how to develop bilateral cooperation in the current situation.
Let’s pay attention to the list of persons who accompanied Putin during the extended negotiations. We can roughly understand the possible list of covered topics. Energy, transport, cooperation at the regional level. Search for those areas of economic or humanitarian cooperation that can be effectively developed with the current level of sanctions or in the event of their strengthening. Of course, this author does not know whether ways to circumvent sanctions were discussed.
The latest result of the visit was another demonstration of the North Korean leader’s contractual capacity and his desire to pursue an active foreign policy, not limited to the American, Chinese or inter-Korean direction. Here Kim again demonstrated his charisma, and this author hopes that the next DPRK-Russia summit will be held earlier than after eight years.