North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, plans to send a senior envoy to Moscow, state-run media announced on Friday, as the country seeks to improve its relations with Russia.
Choe Ryong-hae, a member of the Presidium of the Politburo of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, will travel to Moscow “in the near future” as the top leader’s special envoy, the Korean Central News Agency reported.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Mr. Choe on Monday would begin an eight-day trip to the country to discuss improving political and economic ties. Mr. Choe will visit Vladivostok, which is near North Korea, on his way home from Moscow, the statement said.
The North Korean report did not elaborate on Mr. Choe’s trip. South Korean news media said without citing sources he was likely to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin.
Mr. Choe is widely considered one of Mr. Kim’s closest aides. He visited Beijing in May of last year and met with President Xi Jinping.
Mr. Choe’s trip to Moscow comes as North Korea is relying on its old Cold War allies China and Russia to veto any United Nations move to bring Mr. Kim before the International Criminal Court on accusations that his country violated human rights.
In February, a United Nations panel submitted a report accusing the North Korean government of systematic torture, killings and starvation and said that top leaders could be held accountable for crimes against humanity. The General Assembly is expected to vote on a resolution condemning North Korea’s human rights abuses later this year, but only the Security Council, where Russia and China wield veto power, can refer the matter to the international court. China, North Korea’s main ally, has already indicated it would likely block such a move.
Pyongyang has recently tried to improve its relations with Moscow as a possible counterbalance to China. Beijing has been under international pressure to use its economic influence to discourage the North from conducting nuclear and missile tests and engaging in other acts seen by the West as provocations. Years of sanctions have left North Korea increasingly reliant on trade with China, and leaders in Pyongyang have grown uncomfortable with that economic dependence, and the leverage it gives Beijing, analysts said.