Russia has been working to set up a number of high-profile meetings with North Korean officials, hoping to position itself as sort of an arbiter for negotiations with North Korea in hopes of improving Moscow’s tense relations with the United States
Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of Russia’s Upper House, met separately with North and South Korean representatives on Monday at an international meeting in St. Petersburg. Matviyenko had called for a direct dialogue between the two Koreas, but the idea was rejected by Pyongyang because they were angered by the joint U.S.-South Korean military drills taking place.
Moscow’s request was that the two countries use the opportunity to have their own direct talks to try to narrow their differences.
Matviyenko received a statement from the vice chair of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly that is believed to have been on behalf of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, a statement that made the same argument North Korea has been making for a long time, and that is that nuclear weapons were the only way for the country to defend and protect itself.
Following the meeting, the Russian speaker called for the resumption of six-party talks on the North Korean issue and stressed that she will continue to make every effort to encourage dialogue.
Russia is also hosting an international conference on nuclear nonproliferation on Thursday. Among those expected to be in attendance are Choe Son Hui, director of North American Affairs at the North Korean Foreign Ministry, and Wendy Sherman, former U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs. Some expect the two countries to have some type of contact during the event.
Russia also appears eager to strengthen its own ties with North Korea. A group of Russian parliamentarians met with a top North Korean official in Pyongyang earlier this month. Sergei Mikhailov, director-general of Russia’s state-run TASS News Agency, also met with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho last Wednesday.
“The current situation, when the U.S.A. resorts to the maximum pressure and sanctions and utmost military threats against North Korea, is not the atmosphere in which negotiations could be held,” Ri said, according to a piece published later by TASS.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and China have urged U.S. President Donald Trump to engage in peaceful dialogue with North Korea, an idea that Trump has repeatedly scoffed at.
Moscow, until the last minute, was also opposed to the sanctions placed on the North by the United Nations Security Council in September.
These moves suggest that Russia hopes to turn North Korea into a diplomatic card of its own. Russia has also been sanctioned by the U.S. and Europe over its actions in Ukraine. Its suspected interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election has further eroded its ties with Washington.
Russia appears to be looking out for itself and its own interests, to a certain extent, as it works as a go-between in the ongoing war of words between the United States and North Korea.
[Featured Image by Alexei Druzhinin/AP Images]