Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said Wednesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is expected to accept the Kremlin’s invitation to visit Russia in May. If Kim makes the trip, this will be his first foreign visit since taking power from his late father, Kim Jong Il, as the country's leader in 2011.
Lavrov said Kim's response had been "positive, as a first signal,” according to the Associated Press. Moscow has invited many global leaders to its May celebrations in the capital’s Red Square marking the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory, or Victory Day, over Nazi Germany.
North Korea has not officially commented on the invitation and still has time to decline it. But should Kim decide to go, it would be the first time a North Korean leader would have chosen Russia over China as a first foreign visit, according to Korean news media Yonhap.
"We have sent several dozen invitations. About 20 guests have already confirmed their presence, and we continue to receive responses from other countries," Lavrov said, according to Yonhap. Leaders from the United States, Japan, France, China and Germany attended the 60th Victory Day anniversary.
Pyongyang has shown an increasing reliance on Moscow for international solidarity and reducing its dependence on China as it faces accusations for its human rights records and its nuclear program. Kim sent personal aide and senior envoy Cho Ryong Hae to Moscow last November to improve relations and regional security with Russia, according to North Korean state news agency Korean Central News Agency.
Russia sent the Victory Day invitation to Kim in December, according to Reuters. Moscow is relying on Pyongyang’s cooperation to increase natural gas exports to South Korea, according to unnamed diplomatic sources quoted by Japanese paper Asahi Shimbun. Moscow expressed sympathy with Pyongyang when the reclusive country was accused of hacking into Sony Pictures Entertainment last year by the United States. Pyongyang has denied any involvement.