MOSCOW (AP) — The reclusive leader of North Korea won't be coming to Moscow next month for the Victory Day celebration, President Vladimir Putin's spokesman announced Thursday.
The highly anticipated visit would have been Kim Jong Un's first foreign trip since taking power more than three years ago.
Russia's foreign minister had said in March that Kim was among 26 world leaders who had accepted invitations to take part in the May 9 celebration of the 70th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
North Korea, however, had never confirmed that Kim planned to come.
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told The Associated Press that "internal matters" were preventing Kim from leaving North Korea. He didn't elaborate.
Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul, South Korea, said it would have been difficult for Kim to choose Russia as the destination of his first foreign trip at the risk of irking China, which is a much more important ally to Pyongyang both strategically and economically.
Kim, who took over North Korea's leadership after his father's death in late 2011, also might be reluctant to leave the country at a time when he is still establishing his control over the government, Koh said. The young North Korean dictator has executed or purged many members of the old guard since taking power.
He might also have been unwilling to share the spotlight with other world leaders because of concerns that it would undermine his image at home as an absolute leader, the North Korea expert said.
"Kim might have been worried about the North Korean public seeing him as just one of the many leaders gathered for a meeting, where he wouldn't dominate the attention," Koh said.
Peskov also said that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would be among those coming to Moscow. The United Nations has not formally announced Ban's trip.
The highlight of Victory Day will be a military parade on Red Square overseen by Putin where Russia will show off its military hardware, including mobile missile launchers, and unveil a much-anticipated new tank.
Many Western leaders have snubbed the invitation because of Russia's role in the Ukraine conflict. Others have decided to visit Moscow to pay their respects to Russia for its role in World War II, but will not attend the military parade.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Moscow on May 10, when she and Putin will lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier just outside the Kremlin.
Ukraine's foreign minister said U.N. Secretary-General Ban should not go to Moscow. "It would send the completely wrong message," Pavlo Klimkin told reporters at the U.N.
Kate dePury in Moscow, Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, and Cara Anna at the United Nations contributed to this report.