north-korea-kim-jong-un“Kim Jong Un might be ready this year to come out of his cave a bit”[1], affirmed the North Korea expert John Delury[2], cited by The Washington Post, on January 14, 2015.

After three years of almost complete diplomatic isolation, North Korea’s leader decided to stage his first official visit to Moscow, by accepting the invitation of his Russian counterpart to participate, on May 9, in the celebrations that mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe and of the final victory against the Nazi tyranny. According to a text published by The Economic Times on January 22, “around 20 foreign leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, are expected to attend a commemoration event in Moscow”[3].

This high level event represents an opportunity for Pyongyang to deepen its bilateral relations with Russia and find some vital support in foreign policy matters. “North Korean leaders facing the prospect of crimes against humanity don’t exactly have a lot of travel options”[4], commented The Washington Post, on January 14; and “a trip to Moscow would signal Kim's desire to reduce his country's dependence on China, which remains Pyongyang's main ally, diplomatic protector and economic buttress”[5], added Jakarta Post on January 22, 2015. Moreover, The Wall Street Journal argued, “the United Nations Security Council is currently considering a motion to refer the North Korean leadership to the International Criminal Court. Russia, as a permanent member of the council, has the power to veto the request”[6]. Considering these aspects, a closer relationship with Russia might offer Kim Jong Un the so badly needed confidence that the UN is not going to adopt too harsh measures against the regime in Pyongyang. The North Korean ruler might also try to find help against increasing pressures coming from South Korea, closely supported by the U.S.

Many media sources expressed their doubts regarding a potential inter-Korean meeting in May. Chosun Media, for example, mentioned, that “Russia invited both President Park Geun-hye and Kim [Jong Un] in December last year, but many have doubted that they would both turn up.”[7]. At the same time, Bloomberg added, on January 22: “It remains unclear whether South Korean President Park Geun-hye will visit Moscow for the celebrations”[8].

Strictly speaking in terms of power on the international arena, the visit of the North Korean leader to Moscow is an attempt to avoid complete diplomatic isolation, and also to avoid – if possible – a too harsh attitude of the United Nations. Some economic help is also badly needed by the North Korean economy, which is one of the least effective in the world. On the other hand, Russia might feel the need to extend even more, because of very clear geo-strategic reasons, its sphere of influence in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. An enhanced relation of Moscow and Pyongyang might represent, up to a certain point, a win-win solution for both regimes, and also an extra problem (or threat) the West might be confronted with.

[1] Anna FIFIELD, “Is 2015 the year that Kim Jong Un finally leaves his Hermit Kingdom?”,  Washington Post, January 14, 2015, at the Internet address

[2] John Delury is a senior fellow of the Center on U.S.-China Relations and an Assistant Professor of International Studies at Yonsei University. He has taught Chinese history and politics at Columbia, Brown, and Peking University, and received a PhD in Chinese history at Yale – see “John Delury”, at the Internet address

[3] “China would welcome North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un visit to Moscow: Foreign ministry”, in The Economic Times, January 22, 2015, at the Internet address

[4] Anna FIFIELD, op. cit.

[5] Agence France-Presse Beijing, “China would welcome Kim Jong-Un visit to Moscow: Govt”, in Jakarta Post, January 22, 2015, text accessed at the Internet address

[6] Alastair GALE, “North Korean Leader May Make First Overseas Trip to Moscow”, in The Wall Street Journal, January 22, 2015, at the Internet address

[7] “Kim Jong-un Accepts Invite to Russia”, in Chosun, January 22, 2015, at the Internet address

[8] Sam KIM, “Kim Jong Un May Make First Foreign Trip to Russia War Ceremony”, Bloomberg, January 22, 2015, at the Internet address

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