Since he became the Hermit Kingdom’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un has racked up quite a list of accomplishments. He has consolidated his position by ridding himself of political rivals in the most permanent way imaginable; acquired an impressive ally in former NBA star Dennis Rodman; intimidated an American movie studio into scrapping the release of a film that dared make fun of him; ensured his uniqueness by outlawing anyone else from having his name; sent international media into a tizzy by absenting himself for a month; and, most memorably, appreciated all the lubricant produced in North Korean factories.
Missing from the checklist, however, is an essential for any young leader trying to gain entry into the Serious Leader’s club: recognition by a foreign power, usually signalled by a sojourn to exotic climes. No more: Kim has just RSVP’d “yes” to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invitation to attend ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of Victory Day — the date of Nazi Germany’s capitulation to the Soviet Union at the end of World War II — in Moscow in May. Could this be the beginning of a beautiful friendship?
There is much Kim and Putin could bond over. They have fractious-at-best relationships with the West and share cosy ties with China, in spite of chafing at Beijing’s dominance. Both economies look dire, weighed down by sanctions. Both have been extensively photographed with serious weaponry and petting animals. And both may be only too pleased to seize an opportunity to cock a snook at their great rival, the United States. For Pyongyang and Moscow, though, the visit is not just a chance to defy the West. They are also warning Beijing that Pyongyang can acquire other powerful friends — and Moscow could jostle with it for influence there. The world ought to take heed: successful relationships have been built on a lot less.