Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump are sure to discuss North Korea at their bilateral summit as the American leader looks to tap Moscow's strategic leverage over the isolated state.
The controversial heads of state are due to meet in Helsinki on Monday, with arms control, Ukraine, Syria and Iran likely to dominate talks. Pyongyang's pledge to denuclearize may not top the agenda, but it's likely to get considerable attention.
The U.S. president will "absolutely" seek Putin's help on the matter, according to Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, associate scholar at the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute. For one, Trump may ask the Russian leader to maintain sanctions on ruler Kim Jong Un's regime, he said.
Putin imposed restrictions on North Korea to comply with a U.N. Security Council resolution last October, but his administration has generally rejected most U.S.-led efforts to isolate Pyongyang.
For its diplomacy to succeed, it's crucial for Washington to maintain pressure on the pariah nation, but Beijing and Moscow are reluctant to do so following April's inter-Korean summit and last month's Trump-Kim meeting, explained Silberstein.
"Both China and Russia see the cooling of ties as significant enough progress to argue that sanctions should be lessened in the near future, while Trump argues that they should stay on with full pressure until North Korea has abolished its nuclear weapons," the scholar said.
Russia's economic influence over North Korea is nowhere as great as China's, but it still wields considerable sway thanks to deep-rooted trade, cultural and commercial relations. The Eurasian country is a major destination for North Korean laborers and in 2014, it wrote off 90 percent of Pyongyang's $11 billion debt from the Soviet-era. In May, Kim said he "highly" valued Putin for opposing the U.S., according to Russian media.