(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 23)

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his willingness to visit Pyongyang soon, North Korea's state media reported Sunday. The North's official Korean Central News Agency said Putin accepted an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during a meeting with visiting North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui on Jan. 16. Putin's envisioned visit would be his first since his meeting with the late Kim Jong-il, the father of the current North Korean leader Kim, on July 19, 2000, during a summit in Pyongyang. As Putin is set to brace for a presidential election on March 17, his visit will be made at an "appropriate time" after the election. KCNA quoted Choe as saying, "President Putin extended his deep appreciation to President of State Affairs Kim Jong-un's invitation to visit Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) at a convenient time. We are ready to welcome (President Putin) with all our heart," the KCNA said. The scheduled visit is raising concerns as it coincides with a significant thaw in military relations between the two isolated nations. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are escalating, with North Korea increasing intimidation tactics against South Korea. The upcoming visit by Putin could potentially further fuel Pyongyang's hostile stance. Military relations between Pyongyang and Moscow have been relatively subdued since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. However, recent developments suggest a shift, sparked by Russia's prolonged conflict with Ukraine. North Korea is reported to have supplied significant numbers of artillery and ammunition to Russia, forging strong military relations with Moscow. In return, the North was allegedly supposed to receive state-of-the-art technologies needed to produce cutting-edge missiles, including inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Yet, instead of military support, Russia allegedly offered energy and grain to the North. The North has not succeeded in obtaining military assistance from Russia, primarily because Moscow is unwilling to share advanced military technology with the North. "This is the reason why Putin expressed a willingness to visit the North instead of offering such military assistance," said Cho Han-bum, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, in an interview with a KBS radio, Sunday. This indicates that Russia is aiming to keep a measured distance from North Korea while simultaneously exploring opportunities to strengthen its relations with South Korea. In fact, Russian Ambassador to Korea Georgy Zinoviev said during an exclusive interview with The Korea Times that South Korea is the "most favorable" among "unfavorable nations." He emphasized the importance of restoring normal operations for Korean companies in Russia, leveraging the positive reception that Russian consumers have toward Korean products. Nevertheless, the growing rapport between the two autocratic states is expected to gain momentum, prompting China to pursue even closer ties with North Korea. The Yoon Suk Yeol administration needs to resolutely deal with potential military provocations by the North. Yet, on the other hand, it needs to employ more prudent and flexible diplomatic approaches to cope with the growing challenges involving multiple nations. Russia and China serve as patrons of the isolated North, making it essential to employ skillful tactics to address issues involving them. This is crucial in preventing the North from engaging in further hostile provocations. Urgent diplomatic efforts are necessary to comprehensively ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Since the dissolution of the former Soviet regime, Seoul and Moscow have successfully enhanced their partnership, particularly in the economic sphere. It is crucial to leverage Russia's influence to build stronger connections with North Korea. To achieve this, exploring potential avenues to restore Seoul-Moscow relations through close consultations and dialogue is essential. Source: Yonhap News Agency