MOSCOW -- A senior aide to Kim Jong Un arrived here Tuesday in what could be preparation for a meeting between the North Korean leader and Russian President Vladimir Putin as Pyongyang's talks with the U.S. stall.
The visit by Kim Chang Son -- Kim Jong Un's de facto chief of staff, sometimes also called his "butler" -- was reported Thursday by South Korean news agency Yonhap. He had visited Singapore and Hanoi ahead of Kim's summits in those cities with U.S. President Donald Trump.
The North Korean leader has yet to travel to Russia despite invitations from Moscow. But now that negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington have broken down after February's unsuccessful summit, the North probably sees building ties with Russia as a way to gain leverage and force the U.S. to cede ground.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the report, according to Russia's Interfax news agency.
Kim Chang Son's visit follows a March 14 trip to Moscow by North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Im Chon Il, who met with counterpart Igor Morgulov, reportedly to discuss further high-level bilateral contacts.
Russia has advocated easing sanctions on North Korea and holding multilateral talks on denuclearization. While it is encouraging Pyongyang and Washington to continue their negotiations, it has also stepped up its own exchanges with the North in an apparent bid to boost its influence on the Korean Peninsula. A delegation of Russian senators took a six-day trip to Pyongyang this month as part of this effort.
Moscow may also be seeking to maneuver into an intermediary position between the U.S. and North Korea in hopes of improving its own rocky relationship with Washington.