The US leader’s failure to resolve the nuclear crisis with North Korea, despite two rounds of talks, has given Russia an opportunity to assert itself on the international stage.
When US President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in June 2018, many believed that the meeting would not achieve much other than to hand legitimacy to Pyongyang.
The Trump administration provided an opportunity for the leader of the hermit state to present himself as a global statesman. The US president assumed that affording his presence and prestige by sharing a stage with Kim would ensure a favourable outcome for the nuclear negotiations.
The Kim dynasty that has ruled North Korea since 1948 has not been able to survive for so long by being so easily susceptible to flattery.
When the two leaders met again in Vietnam in 2019, the meeting broke up acrimoniously when the North Koreans demanded that sanctions be lifted as part of the negotiations.
Trump needs a big international achievement for a domestic and international projection of power, in order to help him secure the presidency for a second term in 2020.
Kim has given no indication that he is willing to provide it with that easily. And to underline the point, the North Korean leader, once an international pariah, will now travel and meet the Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok, a short distance from the North Korean border.
Kim will travel to one of Russia’s most remote cities with a green train that his father used. The late leader Kim Jong-il was paranoid about travelling by plane, fearing his assassination.
Russia will likely pull out all the stops to build on the opening afforded by the Trump administration and showcase Russia’s great power status.
Firstly, Russia will face no international fallout from meeting Kim Jong-un - that opportunity ended when the US president blundered and gifted the North Korean leader a PR makeover in their first meeting without getting anything in return.
The spectacle was a photo opportunity for Trump and for Kim a means of cleansing.
Secondly, Russia has no qualms about meeting the North Korean leadership. Interestingly this will also be the Russian president’s first summit and Putin will no doubt use his meeting as more than just a international spectacle. Putin can thank Trump for this opportunity.
In addition to the meeting with Putin, the Kim regime flexed its diplomatic muscle by announcing last week that it no longer wants US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the nuclear negotiations, shortly after it announced the testing of a short range tactical missile.
Trump has often trumpeted the idea that under his term as president there has been no missile testing.
The Kim regime, by meeting Putin, will also seek to show the US administration and, to a lesser extent China, that it has international options to resist excessive pressure during this negotiating period.
Interestingly, the Washington Post reported in January of this year that the Russians had made an offer to the North Koreans to build a nuclear power plant in a bid to break the nuclear deadlock.
“The Russians are very opportunistic when it comes to North Korea, and this is not the first time they’ve pursued an energy stake in Korea,” Victor Cha, a former White House staffer, told the Washington Post.
Trump’s blunder in hastily meeting the North Korean leader has given Russia on opening to involve itself in a high steaks diplomatic game and the Kim regime a chance to broaden his alliances.