North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un may enjoy an elite ballet performance and a tour of one of Russia’s public aquariums during a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin reports have concluded will likely take place this week in eastern Vladivostok.
Japan’s Kyodo News agency reported Monday that top Kim underling Kim Chang-son is in the city and toured “several facilities in Vladivostok last week, including the Mariinsky Theatre, a public aquarium and Russia’s Pacific Fleet headquarters,” according to South Korean newswire service Yonhap.
The visit, which appeared to be in the planning stages since late last year, will be the most recent international travel for Kim, who visited Vietnam in February to meet American President Donald Trump. Since leaving the country as dictator for the first time to visit China in 2018, Kim has made a habit out of using diplomacy as an excuse to conduct tourist activities throughout Asia.
Kim Chang-son reportedly toured the Mariinsky Ballet theater while in Vladivostok, a centuries-old institution in the world of ballet home to elite performers, and an unnamed public aquarium. He also reportedly surfaced at the headquarters of the Russian Navy fleet and at Far Eastern Federal University, suggesting Kim was not only investigating potential entertainment locales for his boss. The former presents a clear object of interest for Kim Jong-un, as Russia remains a nuclear power despite its military being largely outclassed by the other major world powers, China and the United States. The latter, Yonhap notes, is an academic hub hosting enough North Korean students that it could serve as a proper venue for Kim to make an address.
Kyodo News cited an unnamed Russian official as the source for the update on Kim Chang-son’s travels.
Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper, suggested that the university may serve as a host to the summit between Kim and Putin itself. The newspaper coincided with Yonhap reports revealing that Kim will likely leave North Korea for eastern Russia on his personal train on Tuesday, taking between 10-15 hours to get to Vladivostok, and meet with Putin Wednesday and Thursday.
The South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo noted that a slow train could take up to 24 hours on the trip, but a flight would take an hour and a half, and there is no guarantee Kim will not fly to reach his destination. That change in plans could potentially make the summit with Putin much longer, or cut the latter end of the visit short. The second option may benefit Putin, who is traveling to eastern Russia en route to Beijing for the Chinese Communist Party’s annual summit on the Belt and Road Initiative, its global infrastructure domination plot.
Both the Russian and North Korean governments have provided journalists few details regarding the upcoming meeting between Putin and Kim. The Kremlin has offered only that the two world leaders will meet in person before the end of the month, but not suggested meeting places, times, or topics for discussion. Russian government officials confirmed the summit after a flurry of reports suggested it would soon occur given the opportunity of Putin leaving Moscow for Beijing this week.
An unnamed “South Korean former intelligence agency official” told JoongAng the two countries are keeping “utmost security” to the point of likely “preparing various decoy schedules to cause confusion for neighboring countries.”
Following Kim Chang-son’s visit, North Korean Defense Minister No Kwang-chol arrived in Russia on Monday, the North Korean state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported. KCNA claimed No would attend the 8th Moscow Conference on International Security, a separate event from Kim’s meeting with Putin.
Russia initially invited Kim Jong-un to visit Moscow in May 2018, but Kim appeared to choose planning a second summit with President Trump instead. That second summit failed to bring Kim the victory he sought: convincing Trump to drop sanctions on his country without having to definitively end its illegal nuclear weapons program. Trump walked out of the summit in protest, telling reporters he did not see a possible way to negotiate with Kim.
Kim and Trump both maintained publicly following the summit that they liked each other personally, but their agendas did not match. The North Korean government denied Trump’s version of events, however, insisting Kim was reasonable. Instead, they fixed the blame on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, demanding last week that Trump fire him and refusing to send any North Korea officials to meet with him. North Korea also tested an unspecified weapon for the first time in months last week.
In an apparent dig at Kim’s relationship with Trump, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last week that he expects Kim and Putin to get along but also have kindred agendas.
“Personal ‘chemistry’ can facilitate a full understanding, but it can’t guarantee that,” he told reporters.