North Korean leader Kim Jong-un arrived in Russia’s Far Eastern city of Vladivostok on Wednesday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Although the agenda for talks is still a secret, experts interviewed by Kommersant newspaper say given the current environment and the time devoted to talks, no breakthrough is expected to be made at the meeting. The Kremlin has confirmed that no final documents would be issued.
Most Russian and Korean experts believe that the visit is symbolic, casting doubt on its political and economic importance. "After the failed Hanoi summit [with US President Donald Trump] Kim Jong-un needs to confirm that in general he is committed to denuclearization, but in the framework of the Russian-Chinese step-by-step plan," expert of South Korea’s ASAN Institute for Policy Studies Go Myong-Hyn told the paper. Donald Trump and his team reject this scenario, demanding North Korea’s full denuclearization as a condition for lifting sanctions.
Konstantin Asmolov, a leading Research Fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Far Eastern Studies, believes that the sides won’t be able to seriously hash over any issues at such a brief meeting, which is expected to take no more than two hours. The sides are most likely to confirm their commitment to the documents discussed earlier and briefly speak about how to develop trade amid sanctions as well as the negotiations with the United States. According to the expert, Russia is satisfied by the deadlock in the US-Korean talks. The priority for Moscow is stability on the Korean Peninsula and maintaining a status quo in relations with Pyongyang, he explained.
Head of the Asia-Pacific Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center Alexander Gabuyev pointed out that Russia does not have any economic leverage for exerting influence on North Korea, and the volume of their bilateral trade turnover is insignificant. "Moscow can’t be an independent mediator in ironing out US-Korean problems, as firstly, its policy here is similar to that of China, and secondly, it is in conflict with the US and its assistance won’t be accepted." For Vladimir Putin this meeting is an excellent opportunity to show that Moscow plays an active role in global affairs, Go Myong-Hyn noted.
Professor at Seoul's Kookmin University Andrey Lankov told Vedomosti: "We are expecting a symbolic summit, which will voice moderate criticism of tough US demands, verbose discussions on constructing a gas pipeline and railways (which won’t be built in the near future) and promises of Russia’s limited humanitarian assistance. Russia has small opportunities to influence Pyongyang, and it is not eager to do this, he noted. "That’s why despite numerous proposals, Kim had not come to Russia before. But now both sides will try to drum up hype about the meeting as best as possible." Pyongyang needs to make it look like diplomatic success is achieved after the failed Vietnam summit.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Wednesday on granting Russian citizenship under a simplified procedure to the citizens of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics for humanitarian purposes. Kiev has described the Kremlin’s decision as a signal on launching a new stage of aggression and demanded that the United Nations Security Council hold an urgent meeting. Representatives of Ukraine’s President-Elect Vladimir Zelensky have not commented on the decision. However, Putin’s decree apparently comes in response to Zelensky’s demand for Moscow to recognize the election and start new talks on Donbass and even on Crimea, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.
A member of Russia’s Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, Ilya Shablinsky, told the paper that Russia’s step is directly linked to Ukraine’s presidential election. "Our authorities apparently want to show Moscow’s position by this move." The position is that Russia seeks to integrate Donbass in the near future, but the wish to cut another territory off from Ukraine will certainly worsen relations with Kiev. Russia’s authorities understand the consequences of this step, but they seem to be indifferent to them, he stressed. "So, this decree is a curtain-raiser for a new wave of confrontation."
Konstantin Zatulin, First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee for the Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs, told the paper that Putin had signed the decree a long time ago, but he waited until the Ukrainian presidential election was held to prevent mass hysteria of Poroshenko’s administration. According to Alexey Makarkin, analyst at the Center for Political Technologies, "this decree is a signal from Russian authorities that the attitude to Zelensky is cautious and no one will give him an advance."
Political scientist Oleg Ignatov told RBC that this decree could be Moscow’s response to a series of signals from Zelensky’s campaign, which run counter to the Minsk peace agreements. Zelensky spoke about refusing to grant amnesty for the citizens of the unrecognized Donbass republics, a special status to the territory and his reluctance to hold direct talks with the Donetsk and Lugansk leaders. Moscow demonstrated that it’s up to Ukraine, not Russia to make concessions, Ignatov noted.
Alexander Turchinov, Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, pointed out that the decree "creates legal conditions for officially using the Russian Armed Forces against Ukraine" and motivating this by protecting Russian citizens.
Saudi Arabia has expressed its readiness to restore ties with Damascus and return its diplomats to Syria, apparently seeking to offset Iranian and Turkish policy, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes citing sources. In its turn, Moscow also wants Riyadh’s greater involvement in the Syrian issue. This step could help balance the power landscape in the Syrian Arab Republic, according to the paper.
Russia backed the restoration of Damascus’ ties with Arab capitals. The process was launched in late 2018, when the signs of activity of the Arab League’s member-states were seen in the so-called "green zone" of the Syrian capital. Even the United Arab Emirates decided to restore diplomatic presence, although its authorities had not developed a pragmatic approach to the Syrian issue. So far, nearly 10 states of the Arab League have restored their diplomatic missions to Damascus.
"The situation for Saudi Arabia in regard to Syria is a deadlock," Grigory Kosach, professor of Eastern studies at the Russian State University for the Humanities, told the paper. The Saudi support for the Syrian opposition has not yielded any serious results, he explained. Moreover, thanks to this support many other regional forces became involved in the Syrian conflict. "That’s why Riyadh is apparently seeking to break this deadlock."
However, the expert sees no intention from Saudi Arabia to restore Syria’s membership in the League of Arab States and stop supporting the Riyadh-based opposition. Moreover, at the latest meeting the Arab League decided against Syria’s membership in the organization due to Saudi Arabia’s position, he noted. "So, on the one hand, there is a deadlock situation and the kingdom’s authorities should search for a solution to it, and on the other hand they are not yet changing their stance to the regime."
A new round of talks on Syria is opening on Thursday in Kazakhstan’s capital, which has been recently renamed to Nur-Sultan. It was expected that at the meeting in the Astana format the sides would announce about completing the effort on setting up and launching the constitutional committee, Kommersant writes. However, according to Kommersant’s sources, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen failed to convince Damascus to make concessions on the committee’s makeup during his visit to Syria on April 14. The UN envoy will arrive in Nur-Sultan without the endorsed list. Now there is only hope that Moscow will find levers of influence on the Syrian leadership, the paper says.
The failed effort did not come as a surprise for Moscow because Russian Presidential Special Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentyev and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin visited Damascus after Pedersen had left. Ahead of talks in Nur-Sultan, Vershinin announced that Moscow was doing its utmost in order to launch the constitutional committee by this summer.
Moscow is dissatisfied with the Syrian leadership’s stubbornness and the stance of Damascus, which declares itself "the winner in the war." Sources linked to the talks on establishing the committee believe that the only way to break the impasse is to exert pressure on Damascus.
"Syria is now facing an unprecedented petrol crisis. Traffic in the country has been nearly brought to a standstill. Only Russia can help here and petrol supplies could be exchanged for political concessions," one of the sources told the paper.
Another pressing issue at the upcoming talks in Nur-Sultan will be the situation in Idlib, the only remaining de-escalation zone in Syria. This is a priority issue for the Syrian leadership, which has been dreaming about returning Idlib under its control for a long time. However, Russia has not backed the idea of a military operation in this area, placing the stake on its accords with Turkey, which had vowed to start disengaging armed opposition from terrorists. There is no talk about a military operation in Idlib now: Moscow won’t quarrel with Ankara fearing that it would side with Washington.
The 8th Moscow Conference on International Security opened in Moscow on Wednesday, bringing together dozens of countries to discuss pressing issues, including the development of missile and nuclear weapons and regional security, with heated remarks voiced about Washington’s foreign policy, Kommersant writes. The two-day forum kicked off amid US Ambassador Jon Huntsman’s remark that the West was sending a clear signal to Moscow: relations could improve only if Moscow ceased its "destabilizing activities around the world."
The Russian Defense Ministry’s representatives and Russian diplomats had to argue with the Americans in absentia: US and EU representatives ignored the conference. Traditionally, the Moscow security conference is aimed at confirming Russia’s allies and buyers of weapons, and therefore the bulk of foreign participants consists of representatives of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Asian, African and Latin American countries. This time was not an exception, Kommersant notes.
A European diplomatic source told the paper that one of the reasons why representatives of the European Union did not attend the conference was Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez’s desire to come. Many EU member-states do not recognize the legitimacy of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government. Another reason for their absence at the forum was the EU consolidated disagreement with Moscow’s foreign policy. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan minister failed to appear at the conference on its first day.
On the first day of the conference the host country focused on the United States’ policy. All Russian participants voiced concerns over the fate of the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty). Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu stated that the prospects of extending it after 2021 remained unclear, stressing that Russia was fulfilling its commitments under the treaty. According a military and diplomatic source, after Washington’s decision on leaving the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Russia has no more illusions on the US commitment to reducing tensions.
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