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North Korea's Kim Will Not Come To Moscow For Victory Day

It would have been North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's first foreign visit since taking power three years ago.
It would have been North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's first foreign visit since taking power three years ago.

The Kremlin says North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will not come to Moscow for May 9 Victory Day ceremonies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on April 30 that Kim "decided to stay in Pyongyang" and that the decision was connected with domestic matters in North Korea.

"He can't make it," Peskov said, without elaborating. He said the decision was conveyed to Russia through diplomatic channels.

Russian officials had said earlier that Kim accepted an invitation to take part in the May 9 ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of Nazi Germany's defeat in World War II.

It would have been Kim's first foreign visit since taking power three years ago.

Putin will preside over a military parade in Red Square, outside the Kremlin, that will feature tanks, missiles, and other weapons in an annual show of force.

Many Western leaders are staying away from the Moscow ceremonies in a sign of distaste with Russia's interference in Ukraine.

Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014 after deploying troops there, and Kyiv and NATO say Moscow has given direct military support to pro-Russian separatists whose war with government forces has killed more than 6,100 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.

Some leaders of former Soviet republics that have close ties with Russia are also staying away.

They cite plans for their own ceremonies at home, but the decisions are seen as aimed to underscore independence from Moscow amid concerns over Russia's intentions toward its neighbors.

With Western leaders staying away, Kim's presence could have added weight to the ceremonies.

But it also would have been likely to spark criticism of Putin for hosting the leader of a country where government opponents are severely punished and basic rights are routinely violated.

On April 29, South Korea's spy agency told lawmakers that Kim had ordered the execution of 15 senior officials this year who were accused of challenging his authority.

Kim has removed senior members of the elite through a series of purges since he took over as leader after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in 2011.

Kim's uncle Jang Song Thaek, who was once considered the second-most-powerful man in North Korea, was executed in 2013 for alleged treason.

Reuters news agency quoted Yang Moo-jin, an expert at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, as saying that it was unclear why Kim decided not to make the trip, which could have bolstered his image.

"He was at the stage in his leadership where he should have been seen working on external affairs and trying to overcome international isolation, especially in light of the negative publicity he's got in recent months," Yang said.

Peskov said about 30 foreign leaders would attend anniversary events but not all of them would watch the military parade. These include German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is expected to be in Moscow only on May 10.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is one of the most prominent leaders expected to attend.

With reporting by TASS, AP, AFP, and Reuters
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