Vladimir Putin, who welcomed Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi on Monday, will play host again in a week, with Kim Jong-un. Ten thousand kilometers further east and without leaving Russia. The president of North Korea will have enough to cross the border to Vladivostok in an armored express to negotiate on weapons, according to The New York Times.
"We have nothing to say on the matter", said, on the other hand, the spokesman of the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov. In any case, the relations between Putin, a former KGB agent, and the North Korean communist hierarch should come as no surprise. They already met in the same place and in the same way four years ago.
After all, the Soviet Union was as much a midwife in North Korea's traumatic birth – along with China – as the United States was in South Korea's. But it is true that, since the North Korean nuclear tests in 2006, even Moscow and Beijing had adhered to the sanctions against Pyongyang.
However, the planned meeting between Putin and Kim Jong-un shows that, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine - punished with batteries of sanctions and the rearmament of Kyiv by almost all NATO countries -, the rules have changed. Russia and China are already blocking new US-inspired sanctions against Pyongyang in the UN Security Council.
The port city of Vladivostok will host, from September 10 to 13, the Eastern Economic Forum, which last year brought together representatives from 68 countries. If confirmed, Kim's visit would represent his first trip abroad since before the pandemic.
The Vladivostok appointment does not arise out of the blue. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigú paved the way, with an official visit in July, to demand North Korean ammunition for its artillery and trench warfare and to propose naval maneuvers, according to Seoul's intelligence.
The qualitative change would be that the relationship between Russians and Koreans, previously mediated by the Wagner paramilitary organization, becomes State to State. In return, the communist regime would demand technology, hydrocarbons or simply carbohydrates for a population visibly more malnourished than its leader.
Although six countries have firmly aligned themselves with Moscow in the Ukraine war – and several dozen others are looking the other way – only Iran has proven to send war materiel – drones – to the Russian army
If it came to fruition, the use of North Korean weapons would add a new flag to the internationalization of the conflict. But it is not the attitude of little North Korea that attracts the world's attention, but that of China. So far no military supplies from Beijing have been tested. As much as Xi Jinping and Putin alluded in March in the Kremlin to "a relationship without limits", it does have one.
Of course, many countries in the South, with Mexico and Brazil as leaders, have also expressed that they do not intend to fuel the fire of war with more weapons.
So, Russia is not exactly alone – as the six recent accessions to the BRICS show – but Putin continues to measure his trips abroad with an eye on the Hague Tribunal.
Kim Jong-un, for his part, prefers to travel by train, like his father, Kim Jong-il, and his grandfather, the no less suspicious and no less dictator Kim Il-sung. The younger Kim also took to his armored train back in the day to meet Donald Trump in Hanoi, crossing China.
Despite his North Korean contacts, this Eastern wisdom seems not to have stuck with Wagner's captain Yevgeny Prigozhin, who died two weeks ago in a mysterious plane crash, two months after defying the president Vladimir Putin