North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is set to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin this week, for the first time, at a symbolic summit. He is hoping to project himself as a serious world player but is more likely to come away without the relief he seeks from crushing sanctions, Reuters reported on April 24th.
After his second summit with US President Donald Trump ended without an agreement two months ago, Kim's meeting with Putin serves as a reminder to Washington that he has other options in the region backing his leadership.
But while Kim is likely to seek more assistance from one of his country's two main backers, Russia will be limited in what it can provide and the summit will focus more on demonstrating camaraderie than new investment or aid, analysts said.
"When Kim meets Putin, he is going to ask for economic assistance and unilateral sanctions relaxation. Moscow is unlikely to grant his wishes," said Artyom Lukin, a professor at Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok.
That school's campus is to be the summit venue, according to South Korean media which reported the presence of Kim's top aides there making preparations for the event.
"Being a veto-holding UN Security Council member, Moscow can hardly afford to undermine its authority even for the sake of friendship with Kim," Lukin said.
While Russia says it fully enforces the sanctions that it voted to impose, it has joined China in calling for loosening punishment for North Korea in recognition of steps taken in limiting its weapons testing.
"Steps by the DPRK towards gradual disarmament should be followed by the easing of sanctions," Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said at a Security Council meeting late last year, using the initials of the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Washington has accused Russia of "cheating" on sanctions and said it has evidence of "consistent and wide-ranging Russian violations".
In February, Reuters reported a Russian tanker violated international trade sanctions by transferring fuel to a North Korean vessel at sea, at least four times, between October 2017 and May 2018.
One Russian lawmaker told Interfax news agency last week that North Korea had asked Moscow to allow its labourers to continue to work in Russia despite sanctions requiring their expulsion by the end of this year.
"One particularly sore area for Kim is the issue of North Korean labourers working in Russia," said Anthony Rinna, a specialist in Korea-Russia relations at Sino-NK, a website that analyses the region.
"Kim will probably be seeking some wiggle-room from Russia, although Moscow will be hard-pressed to accommodate Kim given its desire to portray a responsible image in the world."
The United States has said it believed Pyongyang was earning more than $500 million a year from nearly 100,000 workers abroad, including 30,000 in Russia.
According to unpublished reports by Moscow to the United Nations Security Council, Russia sent home nearly two-thirds of its North Korean workers during 2018.
The report, reviewed by Reuters, said in 2018 the number of North Koreans with work permits in Russia fell to about 11,500.