TOKYO (AP) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is looking increasingly likely to visit Russia in his first trip abroad since taking power three years ago, giving the world an unprecedented chance to see him at work on the international stage.
Moscow has invited many world leaders – including Kim and the presidents of China and South Korea – to celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany, which will include a massive parade on Red Square.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said last month the Kremlin had received the “first signals from Pyongyang” that the North Korean leader is planning to attend the May 9 festivities. South Korean media quoted anonymous sources in Beijing this week as saying that Kim is likely to accept. US President Barack Obama has reportedly decided to stay home, so that awkwardness has apparently been averted.
North Korea has not officially commented on the invitation and still has ample time to decline it.
But choosing Moscow for his first overseas trip would be a strong indication of the direction Kim wants to take his country. It would also provide the outside world with a rare look at a man who, while revered at the centre of an intense cult of personality at home, is one of the biggest mysteries in international politics.
In the three years since he assumed power, Kim has shown a style of leadership devotedly in line with the policies of his father, Kim Jong Il and – despite a monthlong absence last year that set North Korea watchers into a frenzy of speculation about his health – adhered to the tried-and-true “field guidance” photo opportunities at farms, factories and military bases that are a staple way of presenting North Korea’s hands-on form of leadership.
He has also inserted a personal touch.
Unlike his reclusive father, who rarely spoke in public, Kim has revived the custom started by his charismatic grandfather, North Korea’s “eternal president” Kim Il Sung, of delivering speeches on New Year’s Day. He often makes public appearances with his photogenic wife and does not seem to share his predecessors’ reported fear of flying – the state-run media recently showed him taking the controls of an airplane in flight.
Though Kim Il Sung enjoyed the strong support of the Soviet Union, its collapse in 1991 drove North Korea and China much closer. Kim Jong Il visited China seven times, always by train, including three visits between 2010 and his death in 2011.