| VLADIVOSTOK, Russia
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia May 18 A new ferry line
between isolated North Korea and its neighbour Russia docked for
the first time at the Russian Pacific port of Vladivostok on
The ferry's Russian operators say it is purely a commercial
venture, but it coincides with what some academics say is a
drive by North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, to build ties with
Moscow in case its closest ally China turns its back.
Journalists were unable to see passengers disembarking from
the ship, the North Korean-flagged Mangyongbong, because Russian
officials kept them away from the quayside, citing unspecified
Reuters television was able to speak to three passengers,
who said they were representatives of Chinese tourism agencies.
One of them showed reporters a photograph on her smartphone
she said had been taken on board. The photograph showed a plaque
with an inscription in Korean which, she said, bore the name of
North Korea's long-dead founder Kim Il Sung.
The weekly ferry service, between Vladivostok and the North
Korean port of Rajin, is pitched at Chinese tourists wanting to
travel by sea to Vladivostok, according to the operators.
China has no ports on the sea of Japan, so travelling to
North Korea and on to Vladivostok is the quickest way of
reaching Vladivostok by sea.
"It's our business, of our company, without any state
subsidies, involvement and help," Mikhail Khmel, the deputy
director of Investstroytrest, the Russia firm operating the
ferry, told reporters at the port.
North Korea is once again under international pressure over
its nuclear weapons programme, after test-firing a ballistic
missile on Sunday that landed in the sea near Russia.
The United States has been discussing possible new U.N.
sanctions with China, which disapproves of the North's
development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to deliver
Russia, especially the port of Vladivostok, is home to one
of the largest overseas communities of North Koreans in the
world, and they send home many thousands of dollars in
much-needed hard currency each month.
To date, there are no signs of a sustainable increase in
trade between Russia and North Korea, but Russia has taken a
more benign stance towards Pyongyang that other major powers.
Speaking in Beijing earlier this week, Russian President
Vladimir Putin said Moscow was against North Korea's nuclear
programme, but that the would should talk to Pyongyang instead
of threatening it.
Asked about the ferry, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman
Maria Zakharova said on Thursday she "didn't see a connection"
between the new service and political issues.
(Reporting by Valeria Fedorenko; Writing by Maria Tsvetkova;
Editing by Christian Lowe and Pritha Sarkar)