Kim Yong-nam, North Korea’s nominal head of state, will join the opening ceremony of the World Cup in Russia this week, according to Pyongyang’s state-controlled Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
“Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, will soon visit the Russian Federation to attend an opening ceremony of the 2018 FIFA World Cup,” the KCNA said on June 9.
Kim’s planned visit to Russia will come after Ivan Melnikov, a deputy speaker of the Russian lower house of parliament, said he was looking forward to meeting Kim while meeting the North Korean delegation on the sidelines of the Development of Parliamentarism forum in Moscow.
“We know the visit has been planned, and I am sure it will happen,” he said.
The World Cup will begin on June 14 and run through July 15 in 11 Russian cities, including Moscow, Sochi and St. Petersburg.
North Korea is not among the 32 qualifiers but Kim will attend the opening ceremony on June 14 in a bid to maintain its friendship with Russia, according to diplomatic sources.
Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Pyongyang on May 31.
Lavrov delivered a letter from Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kim expressed his willingness to visit Moscow within a year to discuss denuclearization and other security issues.
Lavrov’s Pyongyang visit came ahead of an historic summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12.
Russia has so far remained largely on the sidelines as Kim basks in the global spotlight this year.
The North Korean leader has never visited Russia since he took power in December 2011.
On behalf of the North Korean leader, Kim Yong-nam attended the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 and met Putin.
Kim Yong-nam led the North Korean delegation to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February. He was the highest-level North Korean official to cross the border to the South Since the 1950-53 Korean War, before Kim Jong-un met President Moon Jae-in on the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone in April.
Kim Young-nam, 90, is a career diplomat whose unquestioning loyalty has ensured his survival in the repressive state’s top ranks for decades.
He has served the ruling Kim family for three generations, despite periodic purges of the Workers’ Party.
Some analysts have nicknamed him “Tape Recorder” parroting what has been said by the Supreme Leader.
He issues letters of credit for North Korean diplomats and receives foreign representatives, but Kim Jong-un holds the real authority as the supreme leader and head of the Workers’ Party.
Kim Yong-nam’s diplomatic roles were especially convenient for the young despots’ late father and predecessor Kim Jong-il, who liked to avoid contact foreign guests.