Russian Minister of the Interior Vladimir Kolokoltsev arrived in the North Korean capital on Monday, the country’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported, in a visit that comes amid reports that a DPRK-Russia summit may be in the works in the near future.
DPRK state media did not go into further detail about the duration of Kolokoltsev’s visit or what he is set to discuss with his North Korean counterparts.
Kolokoltsev represents the highest-ranking Russian official to visit North Korea since Chairwoman of the Russian Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko attended Foundation Day celebrations in Pyongyang last September.
His visit comes just over a week after a high-profile delegation of Russian lawmakers — included Sergei Kislyak, who formerly served as Moscow’s ambassador to the U.S. — wrapped up a five-day visit Pyongyang.
That same week, on March 25, Kim Jong Un’s chief secretary Kim Chang Son departed the Russian Far Eastern city of Vladivostok, following several days in Moscow: a tour which prompted widespread speculation that a long-planned summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the North Korean leader will go ahead soon.
Kim previously accepted an invitation to Moscow from Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in May last year, but in the wake of February’s surprise no-deal DPRK-U.S. summit, one expert said a Kim-Putin meeting was now “overdue.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we see that occur in the next weeks or months,” said Ankit Panda, an adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists.
“It’s been apparent to me since the summit in Hanoi that Russia, among all of North Korea’s neighbors, has received disproportionate attention in state media.”
Anthony Rinna, an analyst on Russian foreign policy in East Asia for the Sino-NK research group, told NK News that the interior minister’s visit would likely see him discuss security-related issues related to a possible summit.
“The Russian Interior Ministry is primarily a domestic law enforcement organ, and as such Kolokoltev will likely be working to hammer out security measures, including placing sharpshooters in key locations,” he said.
Questions remain, Rinna continued, over where the summit — set to be the first between a DPRK leader and a Russian President since 2011 — will actually take place.
“One of the biggest questions remaining is where exactly Kim would meet Putin,” he said. “In 2001, Kim Jong Il traveled to Moscow by train, although in 2011 he only went as far as Ulan Ude, which is several thousand kilometers closer to North Korea than Moscow.”
“Furthermore, during a brief visit in 2002, Kim stayed within the Russian Far East.”
Another expert pointed to the unannounced nature of the trip, suggesting that Moscow may not yet be certain that the summit will even take place.
“Most likely, this is another attempt of Moscow to persuade the North to go for a summit, which the Kremlin needs to appear a significant and important party in the North Korean issue,” Fyodor Tertiskiy, an expert on North Korean history and politics, said.
“Notably, it was the North Korean side which reported on the visit,” he continued. “One might speculate that the Kremlin chose not to announce it in order to avoid embarrassment: yet another Russian official is going to Pyongyang and the summit is yet to be 100% confirmed.”
Kolokoltsev’s visit also comes amid a flurry of economic and political exchanges between Moscow and Pyongyang, with the two countries having last month signed an ambitious “2019-2020 plan of exchange.”
That agreement, signed in the Russian capital, saw “both sides agreed to boost high-level contact and exchange in the political field [and] actively promote cooperation in the fields of economy and humanitarianism,” according to the KCNA.
The two countries also earlier that month held the 9th Intergovernmental Committee (IGC) for Cooperation in Trade, Economics, Science, and Technology, where progress was made on joint projects such as a new cross-border bridge and plans for a “trading house” based in Vladivostok.
- NK News