Ahead of the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, some observers could not help making bold comments. Some predicted its momentous importance, while others pointed to the regime of extreme secrecy introduced by both parties long before the talks, concluding that there were some big surprises on the way.
Alas, enthusiastic analysts did not receive any surprises or signs of a major shift in the parties’ positions or a breakthrough. Everything was quite matter-of-fact and businesslike. No chemistry between the leaders, and the outcome of the summit does not exceed moderate expectations.
President Putin was pleased with the first personal meeting with the North Korean leader, but even his assessments were quite reserved. “All of us – my colleagues and me – are satisfied with the results of the negotiations. President Kim Jong-un is a fairly straightforward person and talks freely. We thoroughly discussed all items on the agenda – bilateral relations, issues related to the sanctions, the United Nations, our relations with the United States and, of course, the main topic, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula – and touched upon various sides of all these problems.”
As to the meeting itself, even though it was not too outstanding, it is impossible to underestimate its importance for both parties. It is pivotal for Russia to know how safe the situation at its border with North Korea can be, and whether it can rely on the efficiency of the contemplated trilateral projects of economic cooperation involving Russia, North Korea and South Korea. And there are many such projects, Putin pointed out. “This includes direct railway communication between the south of the Korean Peninsula, the north and Russia, reaching the Trans-Siberian railway; there is a possibility of laying pipelines, and then we could start talking about oil and gas [deliveries]; and there is a possibility of building new power grids.”
It seems that the meeting with Kim Jong-un provided the Russian president with exhaustive answers to his questions. It is no coincidence that he confidently told journalists after the meeting, “As to reducing the threat of nuclear conflicts, it is definitely our common priority. But I got an impression that the North Korean leader shares this opinion, they just need guarantees of their own security, that is all. We need to consider it together.”
Mr Putin once again emphasized Russia’s willingness to cooperate in the interests of reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and strengthening peace and security in Northeast Asia in general. But this can be achieved only with active participation of all interested nations, he added.
Did Kim hear him? It looks like he did. He announced that “uninterrupted development of Korean-Russian relations is not simply in [the parties’] common interests, but also crucial for ensuring peace and security in the region.” He also stressed that Pyongyang’s policy of building friendly relations with Russia remained unchanged.
Yet another important message Mr Putin sent to both the US and North Korea: Russia does not play behind its partners’ backs in any matters, including those related to Korea. The Russian President made it clear that he would openly discuss the results of Russian-Korean talks with both Pyongyang and Washington. Moreover, he said that Kim Jong-un had asked him to inform the American party about the talks and his position.
“If we continue acting like this – one step forward, two steps back – we will not achieve the desired result. But if we progress gradually, respecting each other’s interests (and here I am referring to all stakeholders involved in the resolution of the North Korean problem and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula)… we may eventually achieve this goal,” Mr Putin said.
Beijing has already declared its support to the Russian President’s opinion. Time will show whether Donald Trump is ready to support such straightforward communication for resolving any problems.