Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu arrives in North Korea

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A Russian delegation led by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has arrived in North Korea, to be joined by a Chinese delegation later on Wednesday.

They will attend Pyongyang’s celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, marked typically by massive military parades.

The visits are the first to North Korea since the country shut its borders in a bid to keep out the pandemic.

It is unclear if this signals a change in Pyongyang’s border policies.

The reclusive North Korea had sealed the country off from all trade and diplomatic ties in early 2020, even with Russia and China, which are its main economic and political partners.

They even cut off imports of essential goods like food and medicine.

North Korea has been facing food shortages, which have been made worse by its border closure and strict international sanctions that have been imposed because of its nuclear programme.

Some analysts say the inclusion of Chinese and Russian envoys in this year’s ‘Victory Day’ parade – as the 1953 Korean armistice is called locally – hints at a possible loosening of Covid restrictions.

It comes weeks after images of North Koreans walking around without masks were shown on state media.

A delegation led by Russian Defence Minister Shoigu arrived in North Korea late Tuesday, and received a warm welcome on the tarmac at an airport in Pyongyang.

He walked past a line a saluting soldiers and a red banner emblazoned with the words, “Welcome, Comrade Defence Minister of the Russian Federation Sergei Shoigu!” in both Korean and Russian.

The Chinese delegation will be led by Li Hongzhong, who is part of the Chinese Communist Party’s central policymaking committee, and will arrive sometime on Wednesday, according to a party spokesperson.

China and Russia are both long time allies of North Korea.

Beijing had sent troops in the fall of 1950 to support North Korea in the war against South Korea. The Soviet Union had also supported North Korea in the war before the USSR collapsed in 1991.

Since then, Russia has remained a natural ally for North Korea because of their mutual dislike for the US. Washington has, in fact, accused North Korea of providing military aid to Russia in the war in Ukraine, a claim that both Pyongyang and Moscow deny.

The invitation also comes on the backdrop of rising geopolitical tensions between the US and Russia over the Ukraine war. Ties between Beijing and Washington are also frayed because of Taiwan.

The US has been trying to talk to Pyongyang following the defection of US soldier Travis King to North Korea.

Pvt King, who was meant to go back to the US to face disciplinary action, ran into North Korea while on a tour at the Joint Security Area (JSA), an area in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that divides North and South Korea.

The United Nations Command, which the United States is a part of, had earlier said talks have begun with North Korea over Pvt King, but did not elaborate on the details.

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