Kim and Putin meet in Russia as possibility of weapons deal looms
By Choe Sang-Hun and Anushka Patil
The North Korean and Russian leaders, Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin, arrived Wednesday at a site in Russia’s Far East for a summit meeting, Russian state media reported. The talks will be closely watched for indications that Kim has agreed to supply munitions the Kremlin needs for its war in Ukraine.
Kim and Putin, the Russian president, are both pariahs, isolated from the West, but the war in Ukraine has elevated the North Korean leader’s significance to the Kremlin. Putin’s invasion has dragged on for nearly 19 months, and he needs allies; North Korea is one of the few countries willing to supply Russia with weapons.
The Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported that the two leaders had arrived Wednesday morning at Vostochny Cosmodrome, a space launch center in Russia’s far eastern Amur region, where they shook hands.
Putin told reporters that the summit was being held at the cosmodrome because Kim “shows great interest in rocket technology,” RIA journalists reported on Telegram.
Kim arrived in Russia on Tuesday from North Korea, having traveled to the meeting on his armored train, a trip that took days. North Korean news media reported that he had departed Pyongyang, the capital, Sunday afternoon; the Kremlin confirmed his arrival in Russia on Tuesday, with state media publishing video images of him being greeted by a Russian official at a stop identified as being in the city of Khasan, just over North Korea’s northeastern border.
Despite international sanctions and domestic economic hardship, North Korea operates one of the world’s largest standing armies and a vigorous defense industry. U.S. officials have repeatedly warned that North Korea was shipping artillery shells and rockets for Russian troops in Ukraine, and have warned that Kim’s meeting with Putin could result in additional arms deals.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that the two leaders would discuss trade and economic ties, but he also made a veiled reference to bilateral cooperation in “certain sensitive spheres which should not be publicly revealed or announced,” according to the Russian state news agency Tass.
In recent weeks, Kim has visited North Korean munitions factories, urging them to expedite production of multiple rocket launches, sniper rifles, drones and missiles, according to the country’s state media.
North Korea also has one of the largest fleets of tanks in the world, though most are Soviet-era models. However, as Russian forces try to fend off a counteroffensive in Ukraine, Moscow urgently needs to replenish its depleted arsenals with tanks and artillery, according to military experts.
North Korea wants Russian parts for its Soviet-era military and civilian aircraft, as well as technological help for its nuclear and missile programs.
Earlier Wednesday, South Korea reported that North Korea had launched two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast. The North often carries out such missile tests, but these were the first it had ever conducted while Kim, its authoritarian leader, was outside the country. Multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions prohibit North Korea from testing ballistic missiles.
North Korea may also seek wheat shipments from Russia in return for weapons in order to help alleviate its chronic food shortages, analysts said. It also hopes to resume exporting construction and logging workers to Russia to bring in cash.
In recent months, Russia has eased travel restrictions on North Koreans, allowing them to stay up to six months on tourist visas, which have often been used as a cover for North Korean workers abroad. Hiring North Korean workers is banned under U.N. sanctions.