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(2nd LD) Kim's schedule for Russia visit seen to be taking shape

All Headlines 18:47 April 23, 2019

(ATTN: UPDATES with new info, details in paras 3-4, 7, 11)
By Song Sang-ho

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia, April 23 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's schedule for a visit to Russia appears to be taking shape, with his security and protocol staff spotted making final preparations in Vladivostok for his upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Moscow and Pyongyang have confirmed that Kim will visit Russia for the summit, but they did not disclose its date and venue. Media speculate that he is likely to arrive by train in Russia's Far Eastern city of Vladivostok on Wednesday and hold the talks the following day.

At the Far Eastern Federal University, the most likely summit venue, the flags of the North and Russia were put on campus light poles. A Mercedes-Maybach luxury sedan, known as Kim's exclusive vehicle, was seen entering the university complex -- an indication that last-stage preparations for the Putin-Kim meeting are under way.

Earlier in the day, a plane of the North's flag carrier Air Koryo, and a transport aircraft, landed at the international airport in Vladivostok. The planes from Pyongyang appeared to have come for the summit as the North's carrier runs regular flights there only on Mondays and Fridays.

A diplomatic source here said that Moscow and Pyongyang appear to be fine-tuning the schedule for a dinner between Kim and Putin on Wednesday and their formal meeting the next day.

Should he decide to travel by train, Kim would travel a distance of around 1,200 kilometers from Pyongyang on a trip expected to take 20 hours or more given the poor railway conditions in some stretches toward the border with Russia.

VL.RU, a media outlet in Vladivostok, reported, citing an informed source, that Kim's train may enter Russia at around 11 a.m. on Wednesday via the Friendship Bridge over Tumen River, and reach a Vladivostok station in the afternoon.

The federal university on Russky Island of Vladivostok is seen as the most likely summit venue, as it has so far hosted a series of top-level international events, including the 2012 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

The university is also a site of Russia's annual Eastern Economic Forum designed to publicize and strengthen Moscow's policy initiative to attract investment for and expedite the development of the Far Easter region.

Security on a bridge leading to the insular university is relatively easy to control, another reason why the university has been cited as a likely summit site.

A building of the Far Eastern Federal University in the Russian city of Vladivostok is seen here on April 23, 2019. (Yonhap)

Reporters from South Korea, China, Japan and other countries thronged a university building seen as a likely location for the summit, while security personnel asked them to move away. Some people were seen bringing sniffing dogs inside the hotel, with apparent North Korean officials and security guards moving around outside the hotel.

National flags of North Korea and Russia hang side by side on a pole at the Far Eastern Federal University in the Russian city of Vladivostok on April 23. (Yonhap)

Once a summit is held, Kim and Putin may hold a one-on-one session and then an extended session with their policy staff as it has been the usual case for summit events. Reports said that Kim may stay in Vladivostok until Friday.

Following the summit, Kim is expected to take a tour of the city or its vicinity, observers said. It remains uncertain whether Putin can accompany Kim as he is set to depart for Beijing for an international conference slated for Friday and Saturday.

The conference in the Chinese capital is about Beijing's "One Belt One Road" initiative, a grand geopolitical strategy to connect China with Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Europe and Africa through "land and maritime silk roads."

Kim's tour, if realized, may include visits to the Far Eastern stage of the world-renowned Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, the Pacific Fleet headquarters and some factories producing milk or chocolate, observers said.

Kim may also visit the Primorsky Aquarium, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Far East. On its website, the aquarium said that it will be closed Friday.


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