Russian President Vladimir Putin can be forgiven for appearing slightly weary at the banquet he hosted Thursday for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un: The venue in the far eastern city of Vladivostok is seven time zones ahead of Moscow.
During a lavish state dinner that featured crab salad, borscht and a chocolate cheesecake festooned with North Korean and Russian flags, both Putin and Kim repeated nearly note-for-note many of the platitudinous remarks they made about mutual friendship at their summit appearances.
Putin’s toast, however, alluded to the subtext of the summit: The ongoing and unresolved crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program.
“We welcome DPRK leadership’s steps to establish a dialogue with the US and to normalize relations between South and North Koreas,” he said. “We’re coming from a stand that there’s no alternative to peaceful solution of nuclear and other problems of the region.”
That dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington, however, has faltered. Back in February, President Donald Trump walked away from a summit in Hanoi with Kim with no joint agreement after the North Korean leader insisted all US sanctions be lifted on his country.
Thursday’s Russia-North Korean summit also ended without a joint statement, a typical feature of such high-level meetings between heads of state. But visuals mattered in Vladivostok perhaps as much as words.
Absent many details about the closed-door meetings, much of the coverage focused on the theatrics around the summit, including the seemingly “Game of Thrones”-themed gifts (the two leaders exchanged ornate swords) and the North Korean leader’s somewhat sinister-looking choice of transport (Kim arrived from Pyongyang on an armored train). And the fact that the summit seemed to go as planned was, well, a victory for the Kremlin.
Once again, it does appear that Putin has been able to position himself as an important diplomatic broker. In remarks to reporters following the summit, Putin said he would be relaying the results of his talks with Kim to other world leaders.
Putin is taking part in a summit next in Beijing, where he said he would discuss the summit with his Chinese counterparts.
“Of course, I will speak tomorrow in Beijing with the leadership of the People’s Republic of China, but we will also openly and frankly discuss today’s meeting with the American leadership,” he said. “There are no secrets here, Russia’s position is always open, there are no conspiracies.”
And the Kremlin leader said Kim himself asked the Russian leader to relay his position to the US side.
“Kim Jong Un himself asked us to inform the American side about his position, about the issues that arose for him in connection with the processes that are taking place on and around the Korean Peninsula,” he said.
That, then, is one of the Kremlin’s main messages from the summit: If you want to resolve something with talks, then it’s important to talk with Putin.
CNN’s Alla Eshchenko contributed reporting to this article.