Russians Arrive in North Korea as First Foreign Tour Group since COVID-19

Total Views : 160
Zoom In Zoom Out Read Later Print

The group of almost 100 Russian visitors are the first tourists to be allowed into North Korea since the isolated state closed its doors during the coronavirus pandemic.

A group of Russian tourists arrived in the North Korean capital Pyongyang on Friday, becoming the first foreign group to enter the isolated country since the COVID-19 pandemic.

A North Korean-operated Air Koryo flight carried the visitors to Pyongyang International Airport, the Russian embassy in North Korea said Friday on Facebook.

Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency said 97 Russians had left the country’s far eastern city of Vladivostok for North Korea on a group tour. The group, said to include teenage ski athletes, arrived in North Korea to enjoy a private skiing and sightseeing tour.

The tour group included people in the tourism business and “travellers from literally all parts of Russia from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok”, the embassy said. They will spend four days taking in the sights and visiting a major ski resort.

The visitors were expected to make a first stop in Pyongyang before travelling to the Masikryong Ski Resort near the city of Wonsan, on North Korea’s east coast.

“We will look forward to new encounters with tourists from Russia!” the embassy added.

North Korea’s official tourist website recently uploaded promotional videos showcasing various attractions they might see, including the scenic Taedong River and the snow-decked Mount Paektu.

The group’s arrival comes as Moscow and Pyongyang bolster ties, with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un making a rare overseas trip to meet President Vladimir Putin in the Russian Far East last September. North Korean state media reported last month that Putin had also expressed his willingness to visit Pyongyang.

The Russians are believed to be the first foreign tourists to enter North Korea since the country reopened its border last August, after nearly four years of pandemic-linked border closures, when even its own nationals were prevented from entering.

But the trip surprised Asia observers, who had expected the first post-pandemic tourists to North Korea to come from China – North Korea’s biggest diplomatic ally and economic pipeline.

The North Korean government was said to have been slow to end COVID-19 measures because it preferred not to relinquish the extra control the restrictions gave over the population. 

In January 2020, North Korea became the first country in the world to completely seal its borders to the outside world, claiming it was acting to halt the spread of the virus.

The country confirmed its first case of COVID-19 in May 2022 after maintaining a widely disputed claim to be coronavirus-free for more than two years.

North Korea has one of the world’s most under-resourced health systems and, at the time, had no vaccine programme, mass testing capacity, or antiviral treatment drugs.

The self-imposed lockdown measures throttled trade and triggered concerns about food shortages.

When North Korea reopened its border last August, it also announced the creation of “buffer zones” in the border regions, with soldiers under orders to “unconditionally shoot” anyone found within the zones without permission. 

The expanding ties between North Korea and Russia come as both are locked in separate confrontations with the United States and its allies — North Korea over its advancing nuclear programme, and Russia over its protracted war with Ukraine.