Why is Putin avoiding G20, but meeting North Korea's Kim Jong Un?

Putin had found himself isolated at the 2014 G20 summit after he seized Crimea

KIM JONG UN-VLADIMIR PUTIN Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shake hands during their meeting in Vladivostok, Russia on April 25, 2019 | AP

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will travel to Russia this month to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a US official, AP reported. According to the US official, details of the meeting were not clear but it was likely to take place in the Russian port city of Vladivostok.

The officials also said that the leaders are likely to discuss the possibility of supplying weapons to Russia for its war against Ukraine. The development comes against the background of the G-20 summit, which will take place in India on September 9 and 10. Putin will skip the conclave, where leaders like US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak are expected to attend.

The meeting between the two leaders also comes ahead of the Eastern Economic Forum, expected to meet at Vladivostok between September 10-13. Members of the forum include Australia, China, Japan, India, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States. Both Kim and Putin are expected to attend the Eastern Economic Forum.

Kim is expected to travel for the meeting in an armoured train, the New York Times reported. While in Russia, Kim plans to visit Pier 33, where naval ships from Russia’s Pacific fleet dock.

In July 2023, Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu met with Kim when the former visited North Korea to celebrate the 70th anniversary of an armistice that halted fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War. During the visit, Kim showed Shoigu several weapons North Korea has been developing and testing. These included ballistic missiles banned by the United Nations.

According to sources, Putin and Kim had swapped letters following Shoigu’s visit, the Guardian reported. The US has expressed concerns over advancements in arms negotiations between the two countries.

North Korea, which has little to virtually no relations with the West, is facing a severe food shortage. And, in lieu of the arms it might supply to Russia, it might seek food aid to mitigate malnutrition among North Korean children under five. 

There's also speculation that Russia has invited North Korea to take part in joint naval exercises with China. In the meantime, Putin is likely avoiding the G20 summit to avoid confrontation with leaders of Western allies of Ukraine, namely, the US, the UK, France and other EU nations, that are in attendance.

China's President Xi Jinping too, is skipping the event. However, China is sending a delegation headed by its premier Li Qiang. Joe Biden, ahead of the G20 summit in 2022, had reportedly coordinated with global counterparts to isolate Putin if he had decided to participate either in person or virtually. 

Putin had found himself isolated at the 2014 G20 summit after he seized Crimea and so, he left early. In 2022, Russia's Defence Minister Sergey Lavrov attended a G20 event in Indonesia's Bali. But, walked out after Russia's offensive in Ukraine was condemned.

Shunned by most Western leaders, it is natural that Putin is seeking to form relations with countries that have traditionally had good relations with Moscow. Experts say that he is seeking to build an anti-West coalition by seeking allies in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

This year, Putin also stayed away from the BRICS summit as it was held in South Africa. And South Africa is a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC). And ICC had issued a warrant against Putin over war crimes stating his removal of children from Ukraine. Putin's landing in South Africa could have resulted in him being arrested. He however attended the meeting virtually.

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