SEOUL: Russia has confirmed that a North Korean leader will attend a World War II anniversary in Moscow in May, but did not specify if the leader in question was Kim Jong-Un, the Yonhap news agency reported on Wednesday.
If Kim does participate, it would mark his first foreign trip since taking power just over three years ago following the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il.
Moscow has invited Kim to the event which marks the 70th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany and will be attended by a host of world leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Yonhap said the Kremlin, responding to an e-mailed query, said 20 leaders had confirmed their attendance so far, “including North Korea’s leader.”
Kim’s name was not specified, opening the possibility that the “leader” mentioned could be Kim Yong-Nam, North Korea’s nominal head of state who usually represents the North on official visits.
According to Yonhap, the Kremlin response also noted that the confirmation process was “still ongoing” and a final list of participants had yet to be drawn up.
If Kim Jong-Un does make Moscow the destination of his first foreign trip, it would reflect a desire to reduce his country’s dependence on China, which remains Pyongyang’s main ally, diplomatic protector and economic buttress.
Xi Jinping and Kim have kept their distance since each assumed power and Xi’s first visit as head of state to the Korean peninsula was to the capitalist South last year, rather than the North.
South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has also been invited to the Moscow event, but has yet to announce whether she will attend.
Russia is one of North Korea’s few allies, along with China. Both have opposed the United Nations’ call for Pyongyang to be referred to the International Criminal Court over its human rights record.
The late North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il visited Russia in August 2011 in his personal train for a rare meeting with then Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.
Russia is seeking to expand economic ties with North Korea and is eyeing a project worth about $25 billion (20 billion euros) to overhaul the country’s railway network in return for access to mineral resources.