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Putin and Kim’s Cartoon Summit

The recent meeting in Khasan came across as a desperate gambit by a Russian president who is losing a war and running out of options. But whether Russia is actually offering the deep and multifaceted relationship implied by the summit remains far from clear.

MOSCOW – When North Korean leader Kim Jong-un stepped out of his armored train at a railway station in the eastern Russian town of Khasan for his recent meeting with President Vladimir Putin, I could not help but think of the satirical 2017 film The Death of Stalin. The miniature bridge from the platform to the station and the feeble red runner along which Kim strode stood in comical contrast to the military regiment lined up to greet him. The scene was practically cartoonish, as if Mickey Mouse had donned a suit to talk war with Donald Duck.

Of course, the artillery and weapons that Putin evidently wants from Kim are very real. So is Putin’s apparent sense that he doesn’t have too many international options.

Indeed, the summit with Kim came across as a sort of gambit – and a slap in the face for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has worked for years to keep Kim in line and declared a “no-limits partnership” with Putin a month before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But whether Putin is actually offering Kim the deep and multifaceted relationship implied by the summit – which included a tour of Russian military facilities and the Vostochny Cosmodrome – remains doubtful.