Kim Jong Un's sister Kim Yo-Jong is seen in Russia for Putin summit

Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo-Jong is seen in Russia for Putin summit in her first appearance outside North Korea since it was claimed she is the ‘ultimate power’ to her ‘cruel dictator’ brother

  • Kim Yo-jong seen arriving in today ahead of Kim Jong Un meeting with Putin
  • Some commentators suggest she is the true power behind her older brother

Kim Jong Un’s powerful sister has been spotted in Russia today as part of the North Korean’s entourage as he attended a summit with fellow dictator Vladimir Putin.

Kim Yo-jong, the youngest child of North Korea’s second Supreme Leader Kim Jong Il, was photographed with other DPRK officials arriving at Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome, after they travelled with Kim by train from Pyongyang.

Yo-jong is herself a high-ranking politician and diplomat in the isolationist country, serving as the Deputy Department Director of the Publicity and Information Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea, or WPK.

But some analysts have suggested she is a possible successor to Kim, the country’s current supreme leader and WPK general secretary. She has cultivated a fearsome reputation over the years, and is even seen by some as the true power behind Kim.

In the past, Yo-jong – thought to be 35 – has played a high-profile role in supporting her brother’s summits, but has only appeared on the periphery.

Kim Jong Un ‘s powerful sister has been spotted today in Russia as part of the North Korean’s entourage as he attended a summit with fellow dictator Vladimir Putin

Kim Yo-jong, the youngest child of North Korea ‘s second Supreme Leader Kim Jong Il, was photographed with other DPRK officials arriving at Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome, after they travelled with Kim (centre) by train from Pyongyang to meet with Putin (left)

For example, she was present in Singapore in 2018 when Kim met with then-US president Donald Trump during negotiations that failed to end a nuclear stand-off – and was seen passing documents to her brother.

When her brother met Trump again for another historic summit in 2019 in Vietnam, she was seen shyly peering out from behind a wall.

She was also North Korea’s representative to the 2018 Winter Olympics, hosted in South Korea, and was pictured sitting with Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence.

In photographs released by North Korea’s official press agency, she is often seen at official events, but is always careful to walk several paces behind her brother.

But while she strikes an unassuming, subservient demeanour, a book released earlier this year suggested she is actually a ruthless political operator – and is now seen as being somewhat of a puppet master as well as a feared presence among officials.

According to US academic Sung-Yoon Lee, whose book ‘The Sister’ provided the first detailed insight into Yo-jong, it’s not for nothing that some Pyongyang officials have nicknamed her ‘bloodthirsty demon’ and ‘the devil woman’. 

Yo-jong was largely hidden from public view for decades during her childhood. 

But the world first began to take note of her in 2011 when she was seen during the funeral service for her and Kim’s father Kim Jong Il. She appeared alongside her brother and led groups of party officials in bowing their heads at her father’s casket. 

The next year, she was given a role as tour manager for her brother, and in 2014 received her first official mention in state media, before going on to be named as a ‘senior official’ of the WPK Central Committee that same year.

While her brother underwent medical treatment in October 2014, she was reported to have taken over state duties for him, and was appointed First Deputy Director of the party’s powerful Propaganda and Agitation Department the following month.

The department is responsible for the dissemination of North Korean propaganda, and is said to be the driving force behind the development of her brother’s cult personality in the country, modelled after that of their grandfather.

Some analysts have suggested Yo-Jong is a possible successor to Kim, the country’s current supreme leader and WPK general secretary. She has cultivated a fearsome reputation over the years, and is even seen by some as the true power behind Kim

In 2017, a North Korean diplomat said she organised all major public events in the country, and encouraged her brother to present himself as a ‘man of the people’.

READ MORE: The warmonger and the tyrant: Putin and Kim Jong Un shake hands at Russian space base ahead of sanctions-busting arms deal 

In January that year, her actions got the attention of the United States, with the treasury department placing her on its Specially Designated Nationals List in response to human rights abuses in North Korea.

And in October, she was made an alternate member of DPRK’s Politiburo, the highest decision-making body in the ruling party between sessions of its Central Committee.

A year later, she went to South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics, the first time a member of the ruling Kim dynasty had visited the country, and also was part of her brother’s team for the historic summit with Trump in Singapore.

Commentators speculated that her rise to power in the prior years had been part of a push to replace his father’s ageing allies with younger officials.

While she was demoted from some positions in 2019 and 2020, analysts say her political influence over the government remains unchanged.

Her stock rose abroad in 2020 amid rumours surrounding her brother’s health, with some suggesting her a possible successor in the event of Kim’s death. Such rumours only grew in August that year when it was reported the dictator was in a coma.

And a year later – after Kim’s apparent recovery – she was elevated to the nation’s most powerful body, the State Affairs Commission. 

Since then, Sung-Yoon Lee says, she has had ‘the ultimate power of the cruel dictator; the power to play God and decide who lives and who is killed’ – and, in her brother’s eyes, she is seen as ‘untouchable’.

According to Lee, rumours of Yo-jong’s ‘impulse to purge and kill’ soon became so rife that top officials started holding their breath in her presence. 

If she approached them they would avert their gaze or stare at the floor.

Ignoring her is apparently far safer than trying to win her praise – for ‘just being recognised by her might in due course lead to a fall from favour and a brush with death’, the academic writes.

In April last year, the First Sister dropped her sweetness act and warned South Korea that if its military ‘violated even an inch of our territory, our nuclear combat force will have to inevitably carry out its duty… and a dreadful attack will be launched’.

The South Korean army, she added, ‘will have to face a miserable fate little short of total destruction’. She has also threatened the White House in a similar manner.

Believed to be 35, the youngest child of former North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il is said to be a ruthless political operator who some tip to succeed her brother Kim Jong-un (pictured together in 2018) and who their father regarded as the most able of his offspring

Yo-jong was one of many North Korean officials who travelled to Russia.

She was joined by top military commanders, arms industry officials and other diplomats, hinting at a potentially defence-heavy agenda for meetings with Russia’s president Putin, who continues to struggle in his invasion of Ukraine.

North Korea did not name the members of the delegation, but analysts identified several of the other key figures who appear to be accompanying Kim in photos released by state media on Tuesday. 

Ri Pyong Chol, vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party’s powerful Central Military Commission and marshal of the army, the country’s top military rank, was seen waving alongside Kim aboard the train. 

Overseeing North Korea’s defence industry including its nuclear and missile programmes, Ri travelled to Russia with Kim’s late father, Kim Jong Il, in 2011.

Among other delegates were Marshal Pak Jong Chon, new head of the party’s military political leadership; Pak Thae Song, a party secretary and chairman of a national space science and technology committee involved in a spy satellite program; and Jo Chun Ryong, director of the Munitions Industry Department, who assisted Kim during his recent visits to a munitions factory and missile plant.

Michael Madden, a North Korea leadership expert at the Washington-based Stimson Center, said the participants suggest Kim and Putin would mainly focus on defence and security cooperation, including a possible agreement for munitions purchases led by Jo to bolster Russia’s on-going war in Ukraine.

Defence Minister Kang Sun Nam is also likely to have gone on the trip to Russia, Madden said, though his face was not clearly identified in the photos.

Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui also shook hands with other officials in a receiving line at the train station.

Kim Jong-Il (left) is seen handing documents to her bother (second left) during a summit between Kim Jong Un and then-US president Donald Trump (second right) in Singapore, 2018

A longtime nuclear negotiator and seasoned diplomat, Choe was instrumental during Kim’s summits with Trump, and promoted to the current position last year after a brief demotion following their failed 2019 summit in Vietnam.

Some officials handling economic affairs also appear to be accompanying Kim, raising the possibility that he and Putin might discuss economic cooperation and food aid in exchange for arms.

They include O Su Yong, a party secretary and director of the economy department; Pak Hun, vice premier of the cabinet responsible for construction; and Han Kwang Sang, chief of the party’s light industry department.

An official at Seoul’s Unification Ministry in charge of inter-Korean affairs said Kim and Putin could explore ways to return North Korean labourers to Russia, banned under the U.N. Security Council sanctions.                   

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