North Korea’s top diplomat in Moscow will step down from his post as ambassador in the near future, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement on Monday.
In a report on talks between Ambassador Kim Hyong Jun and Russian vice foreign minister Igor Morgulov, the MFA said the two met “in connection with [Kim’s] forthcoming final departure to his homeland.”
“A high assessment was given to the contribution of Ambassador Kim Hyong Jun to the development of traditionally friendly relations between Russia and the DPRK,” the statement continued, adding that the two also discussed “topical issues on the bilateral agenda and the situation on the Korean peninsula.”
Kim became DPRK ambassador to Russia in August 2014, replacing Kim Yong Jae, who had held the position since 2006 and now serves as Minister of External Economic Relations.
Kim Hyong Jun was also appointed a non-resident ambassador to Moldova, Belarus, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan during the almost five years he spent in his post in Moscow, with the latter two appointments coming in the past year.
The long-time diplomat began his career as ambassador to Syria and Lebanon in 2000, followed by ambassadorships to Kuwait and Jordan before becoming a vice minister at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2005.
Anthony Rinna, an analyst on Russian foreign policy in East Asia for the Sino-NK research group, told NK News that Kim’s tenure as ambassador had seen “some of the most important developments in modern DPRK-Russia ties – both positive and negative.”
He pointed to the ambassador’s time in office during the 2015 “Year of Friendship” between Moscow and Pyongyang as one highlight, but also noted “Kim has witnessed the strains placed on North Korea-Russia ties due to sanctions.”
But as “Kim has made statements that coincide with much of Russia’s narrative regarding the West, such as his 2014 comments that Washington was trying to ‘suffocate’ Pyongyang,” Rinna added, he has also “displayed a sense of ideological kinship with the Kremlin.”
He added that “the end of his tenure, however – while not necessarily through his own fault – has been somewhat lackluster on the heels of the April summit between [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and Kim Jong Un.”
Highlighting some of the key issues in bilateral ties today, Kim was said to have discussed “the prospects for the implementation of Russian-North Korean economic projects, as well as the state of affairs in the field of North Korean labor migration and the fisheries sector” in a meeting with top Russian lawmakers last September.
It remains unclear when Kim will return to Pyongyang or who will replace him as ambassador to Moscow.
As one of North Korea’s most critical diplomatic posts, his replacement is likely to be someone with extensive experience coordinating with Russia.
The last recent shakeup in the DPRK’s diplomatic corp facing Russia came at the end of last year, with the appointment of former First European Department director-general and Consul General in Vladivostok Im Chon Il to the position of Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Federation Council of the Russian Federal Assembly
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