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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
North Korea’s number-two diplomat Choe Son Hui left Pyongyang on Monday to visit Russia, the Russian embassy said in a Facebook post.
First vice foreign minister Choe is joined by her top deputy focused on Russia, vice foreign minister Im Chon Il, according to a video from Kyodo News Agency of her departure at the Pyongyang Sunan International Airport.
Kyodo reported that the two top diplomats boarded a plane to Beijing, where it is presumed they will transfer for a flight to Moscow.
The Russian embassy did not indicate the purpose of the trip.
While Kyodo speculated it may be in relation to ongoing efforts to restart U.S.-DPRK working-level talks, Im Chon Il’s presence indicates the two may be going to Russia to discuss bilateral relations.
It comes just one month ahead of the December 22 deadline for UN member states to repatriate all North Korean workers from their territory in accordance with sanctions passed two years ago.
Besides China, Russia is believed to host the largest number of DPRK workers, with the majority historically in construction, logging, and other industries in the Russian Far East.
In a September interview, Russian Ambassador to the DPRK Alexander Matsegora — who saw off the North Korean diplomats at the airport on Monday — said his country still intends to comply with the requirement after reducing the number in the country to under 10,000 at the time.
The two countries in talks in Russia this week are also likely to follow up on economic cooperation items and security concerns raised in the April summit between President Vladimir Putin and DPRK leader Kim Jong Un.
Matsegora also recently reiterated Putin’s invitation to Kim Jong Un to visit Moscow on May 9 next year for 75th anniversary celebrations of the end of World War II.
The talks this week could also involve coordination between the two sides over how to assert their position if talks with the U.S. restart soon.
As of Monday afternoon, North Korean state media had yet to report on details of Choe’s trip to Russia.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: U.S. State Department