MOSCOW • With Russian President Vladimir Putin set for his first talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this month, Moscow is eyeing a major role in yet another global flashpoint.
Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump held a historic meeting last June in Singapore, during which they both backed denuclearisation.
But a second round of talks in Hanoi in February ended in failure, and Pyongyang this week said it was testing weapons again.
Now, Mr Putin, who has long expressed his readiness to meet Mr Kim, is gearing up to play a bigger role in nuclear negotiations with Moscow's Cold War-era ally, with which it shares a short border.
Russia's main interest in the summit is to remind other players "that it exists and that it has economic and political potential" in the region, Professor Andrei Lankov at Seoul's Kookmin University said.
"Russia needs some sort of control over the situation on the Korean peninsula. Recent events have pushed out almost everyone apart from North Korea and the US, and of course nobody likes that," he said.
A MEASURE OF CONTROL
Russia needs some sort of control over the situation on the Korean peninsula. Recent events have pushed out almost everyone apart from North Korea and the US, and of course nobody likes that.
PROFESSOR ANDREI LANKOV, at Seoul's Kookmin University.
Russia has been inviting Mr Kim for talks since last year, but he was unwilling to spend time and resources on the trip because Moscow was not a major player, said the professor of Korean studies.
But now, Mr Kim is looking for all the allies he can get "because (the second round of US talks) was a failure, and he was not able to achieve the things he was counting on".
Moscow has relatively good relations with Pyongyang, though these have deteriorated from Soviet-era highs.
Mr Putin has expressed tacit support for Pyongyang, saying last year that "it seems counterproductive if we demand everything from the North Korean side and in response they are given nothing".
The Kremlin lacks, however, the regional clout of Beijing - Pyongyang's sole major ally and biggest trading partner. China is intent on keeping North Korea within its sphere of influence.
Russia's role in any global negotiations will likely be as part of a group with China and North Korea itself, said Dr Konstantin Asmolov, a Korea specialist at the Moscow-based Institute of the Far East.
Russia's foreign policy focus remains on former Soviet states and the Middle East, particularly its backing for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Dr Asmolov said.
Prof Lankov said it was futile to hope for any practical breakthroughs at the Putin-Kim summit.
"There will be declarations, promises, they will sign yet another declaration of intent to increase trade 10 times in five years, but after two years they will forget about it," he said.
The Putin-Kim summit is set to take place before the end of this month, the Kremlin announced on Thursday, without specifying a date or a location. It will be the first official meeting between the two leaders. The Kremlin said yesterday that Mr Putin and Mr Kim will discuss bilateral relations, denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and regional cooperation.
"The baggage for discussion is very extensive. Here we must still remember first of all that we are talking about negotiations of the heads of neighbouring states with an extensive joint border," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. "There is no doubt that Russia will be ready to do everything to promote the process of denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula to the best of its abilities."
Mr Peskov said the non-disclosure of information about the place and exact date of the meeting between the two leaders is related to security concerns. But he said the meeting will take place in Russia.
Speculation has grown that the meeting could take place in the Russian city of Vladivostok, which lies not far from its land border with North Korea.
When asked if Russia and the United States contacted each other on the problems of the Korean peninsula, Mr Peskov said a "certain exchange of views is under way", but it was impossible to talk about some kind of close coordination on this issue.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA