SEOUL — After months of “will he, won’t he?” speculation, it’s now clear. He won’t. Kim Jong Un will not be traveling to Moscow on Saturday for Russia’s Victory Day celebrations marking the end of World War II in Europe.
Having previously said that the North Korean leader would attend, the Kremlin reversed itself last week, saying Kim had “internal matters” at home to deal with. Pyongyang said Monday that Kim Yong Nam, who as president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly is North Korea’s official head of state, would go instead.
The decision has inevitably sparked rumors about Kim Jong Un’s actual motives, from domestic political turmoil to discontent at the prospect of not being the center of attention at the gathering, where about two dozen world leaders are expected.
Kim, who succeeded his father at the end of 2011, has yet to make a foreign trip as leader, and now that the official three-year period of mourning is up, the odds had looked good that Moscow would be his first stop.
The move would have served as a reminder of Kim’s grandfather, “eternal president” Kim Il Sung, whose first foreign trip was to Moscow during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union was North Korea’s political and economic benefactor. But it would also have avoided the potential problems of a trip to Beijing, where President Xi Jinping has made his displeasure with the young leader well known, and it could have aided North Korea’s efforts to lessen its dependence on China.