In a major development, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Wednesday vowed support for Russia’s “just fight” during a summit with President Vladimir Putin that the US warned could lead to a deal to supply ammunition for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
After touring launch pads with Putin at a remote space base in Russia’s Far East, Kim expressed “full and unconditional support” and said Pyongyang will always stand with Moscow on the “anti-imperialist” front.
The leaders met at the Vostochny Cosmodrome for a summit that underscores how their interests are aligning in the face of their countries’ separate, intensifying confrontations with the United States. The talks lasted four to five hours, Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti reported. Putin told Russian state TV that the North Koreans will visit two more cities in Russia’s Far East after the summit.
As they met, the Korean leader thanked Putin for his invitation to visit Russia. "Thanks for the invitation and the warm reception, despite your busy schedule," Russian state news agency TASS quoted the North Korean leader as saying to Putin.
The meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin came hours after North Korea fired two ballistic missiles toward the sea, extending a highly provocative run in North Korean weapons testing since the start of 2022, as Kim used the distraction caused by Putin’s war on Ukraine to accelerate his weapons development.
Putin welcomed Kim’s limousine, brought from Pyongyang in the North Korean leader’s special armoured train, at the entrance to the launch facility with a handshake that lasted around 40 seconds. Putin said he was “very glad to see” Kim. Kim’s translator thanked Putin for the warm welcome, “despite being busy.”
The two leaders will sit down for talks after the tour of the cosmodrome, Russian state media reported.
Why Kim's visit is crucial for Russia?
For Putin, the meeting with Kim is an opportunity to refill ammunition stores that the 18-month-old war has drained. North Korea may have tens of millions of ageing artillery shells and rockets based on Soviet designs that could give a huge boost to the Russian army in Ukraine, analysts say.
Kim also brought Jo Chun Ryong, a ruling party official in charge of munitions policies who joined him on recent tours of factories producing artillery shells and missiles, according to South Korea. Kim said his decision to visit Russia four years after his previous visit showed how Pyongyang is “prioritizing the strategic importance” of its relations with Moscow, North Korea’s official news agency said Wednesday.
Kim is expected to seek economic aid as well as military technology. Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko said Russia may discuss humanitarian aid with the North Korean delegation, according to Russian news agencies.
South Korea says it is closely monitoring the meeting
An arms deal would violate international sanctions that Russia supported in the past. Lim Soo-suk, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said Seoul was maintaining communication with Moscow while closely monitoring Kim’s visit.
"No U.N. member state should violate Security Council sanctions against North Korea by engaging in an illegal trade of arms, and must certainly not engage in military cooperation with North Korea that undermines the peace and stability of the international community,” Lim said at a briefing.
The United States has accused North Korea of providing Russia with arms, including selling artillery shells to the Russian mercenary group Wagner. Both Russian and North Korean officials denied such claims.
Speculation about their military cooperation grew after Shoigu, the Russian defence minister, visited North Korea in July. Kim subsequently toured his weapons factories, which experts said had the dual goal of encouraging the modernization of North Korean weaponry and examining artillery and other supplies that could be exported to Russia.
(With inputs from agency)