By Cynthia Kim and Josh Smith
SEOUL (Reuters) - For the first time in nearly four years new staff have been allowed at the Russian embassy in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, the delegation said on Thursday, after anti-pandemic measures blocked most travel and lead many embassies to close.
Russia would be only the second embassy known to be allowed new staff, after China's new ambassador entered in March.
The arrival of the new Russia staff comes amid U.S. officials' suggestions that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may visit Russia soon to see President Vladimir Putin, possibly to discuss arms deals.
"On September 7 at Pyongyang Sunan International Airport, for the first time since 2019, we met our new colleagues - 20 diplomats and technical employees who arrived at the Embassy on a personnel rotation basis," the embassy said in a Facebook post.
Many embassies closed in Pyongyang because they were unable to rotate staff or ship supplies during the COVID-19 crisis.
Russian diplomats were among those who stayed on, despite complaining over shortages of essentials such as medicine, problems getting healthcare, and pandemic restrictions that they said were unprecedented in severity.
In one episode in February 2021 a group of Russian diplomats and family members used a hand-pushed rail trolley to leave North Korea, as Pyongyang’s anti-coronavirus measures blocked most forms of passenger transport across the border.
In a first since before the pandemic, Chinese and Russian government delegations flew to Pyongyang in July and buses carrying North Korean athletes to a taekwondo tournament in Kazakhstan crossed the border into China. The North has also begun allowing its own citizens who were trapped abroad to return on flights and trains.
(Reporting by Cynthia Kim, Josh Smith; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)