North Korea’s Vice Minister of External Economic Affairs departed Pyongyang for Moscow over the weekend, Russia’s embassy in the DPRK reported, where he is expected to hold bilateral talks with local counterparts on “topical issues of bilateral cooperation.”
In a post on Saturday, the embassy reported that Ri Kwang Gun had been escorted to the airport by Russian chargé d’affaires Alexander Vostrikov.
Ri’s meetings this week in Moscow, it continued, would serve as a follow-up to a visit to the DPRK by Russia’s Ministry for the Development of the Far East (MDFE) Alexander Kozlov last month.
Those talks served as a follow-up to the 9th DPRK-Russian Intergovernmental Committee (IGC) on Cooperation in Trade, Economics, Science, and Technology in Moscow on March 6.
Minister Kozlov serves as chairman of the IGC for the Russian side, with North Korean Ministry of External Economic Relations (MEER) head Kim Yong Jae serving as his co-chairman.
The months following April’s summit between DPRK leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok have also seen the two countries step up cooperation and exchanges.
Earlier in the month, a delegation led by Russia’s deputy minister of defense Alexander Fomin visited Pyongyang for military cooperation talks, which saw the two sides discuss deepening DPRK-Russia defense cooperation.
North Korea is yet to report on Ri’s departure this week, and no details have emerged about what the two sides expect to discuss.
But likely to be high on the agenda are a number of joint economic projects between the two countries, such as a cross-border road bridge, improving the use of the rail corridor to the DPRK’s Rason Port, and plans for a Russia-North Korean “trade office.”
Ri appears to have a broad portfolio focused on economic cooperation in Russia’s Far East, having visited Vladivostok early this year for talks with local counterparts and to plan for the-then upcoming 9th IGC.
Also potentially under discussion is a looming deadline laid out in United Nations Security Council Resolution 2397, requiring the full repatriation of North Korean workers from Russia by the end of December.
One expert told NK News that Ri’s visit to Moscow this week can “be seen in two overlapping contexts.”
“On the one hand, it no doubt forms part of a series of recent high-level meeting between North Korean and Russian officials that, taken together, form a sort of follow-up on the April summit between Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin,” said Anthony Rinna, an analyst on Russian foreign policy in East Asia for the Sino-NK research group.
“The visit to Moscow comes shortly after Russia’s Minister for Far Eastern Development Alexander Kozlov met with Kim Yong Jae to discuss economic cooperation,” he noted. “Kim and Kozlov’s meeting focused especially on cooperation over the Rason-Khasan zone, which is one of the few major areas of DPRK-Russia left unscathed by UN sanctions.”
“It makes sense that this week’s meeting occurred following the latest gathering of the inter-governmental commission on economic and technological cooperation, given that one of the biggest challenges to collaboration between Moscow and Pyongyang in the Rason-Khasan area is developing adequate infrastructure that can help the two countries realize their mutual goals.”
Edited by James Fretwell
Featured image: Primorsky Territory Administration