North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived in Russia aboard his personal train to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, a visit that has sparked concerns that the two countries are formulating an arms deal that could used for Moscow's military objectives in Ukraine.
Kim's delegation likely comprised of officials including his foreign minister Choe Sun Hui and his top two military officials, as per the official state media KCNA. The train's entry in Russia on Tuesday was assessed by South Korea's military. He is also bringing party official Jo Chun Ryong, who is responsible for munitions policies in the country.
Reports suggest that North Korea may provide Russia will millions of artillery shells and rockets based on Soviet design that can provide a major boost in Russia's war against Ukraine. In return, Pyongyang will seek desperately-needed shipments of food and energy along with modern weapons technologies.
This is Kim's first meeting with a foreign leader since North Korea closed its borders in January 2020. Putin and Kim had met in 2019, after the latter's nuclear diplomacy talks with former US President Donald Trump collapsed.
What does North Korea want?
Border closures in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 have left North Korea with major economic difficulties, likely motivating Kim to seek food supplies and energy to address shortfalls.
In terms of weaponry, the North Korean leader is likely to seke Russian technology to support his plan to build an array of high-tech weapons systems like long-range missiles, ballistic weapons, nuclear submarines, spy satellites. North Korea has increased weapons production amid tense relations with the US and South Korea.
However, Russia is considered to be very private about its important weapons technologies, casting a shadow of doubt on whether it would provide Kim with the advanced technologies for nuclear weapons.
What does Russia want?
As per US officials, Putin is possibly focusing on securing more supplies of North Korean artillery shells and ammunition as supplies and reserves in its war against Ukraine and declining. Notably, Ukraine has received a considerable amount of military aid from the US. A weapons deal with North Korea can boost Russia's counteroffensive and further prolong the war.
Russia is already facing international sanctions and export controls over the Ukraine conflict, which has caused Putin to seek weapons from other sanctioned countries like North Korea and Iran. An arms deal with Pyongyang will complicate efforts of a peaceful resolution proposed repeatedly by other countries.
US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said that Washington will monitor the meeting closely and will not hesitate to impose new sanctions if Russia violates UN resolutions by entering into an arms deal with North Korea.
What will happen in the meeting?
The two leaders will meet in the city of Vladivostok, where Putin arrived on Monday to attend an international forum. As per reports, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that the meeting would include a lunch in Kim’s honour.
The meeting would be watched closely by US and its allies South Korea and Japan - as these countries are troubled by North Korea's efforts to break out of diplomatic isolation by entering into partnerships with China and Russia.
North Korea has grown closer to Russia since the latter's invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Speculations over military cooperation between the countries grew after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made a rare visit to an arms exhibition and military parade in North Korea in July. Pyongyang has also made concerted efforts to provide a united front against the US.
(with AP inputs)