North Korea's Kim Jong Un reaches Russia to meet Putin
Kim’s train arrived in the Russian border city of Khasan where a welcome ceremony was held, Japan TV network JNN reported Tuesday.
The luxury armored train carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has apparently crossed into Russia ahead of a summit with President Vladimir Putin that the US said would focus on supplying weapons for Moscow’s war on Ukraine.
Kim’s train arrived in the Russian border city of Khasan where a welcome ceremony was held, Japan TV network JNN reported Tuesday, citing a Russian regional official. From there, it’s about 150 kilometers (95 miles) to Vladivostok, where Kim is likely to meet Putin for the first time in more than four years.
The meeting marks the first time Kim has left the Korean Peninsula since his first and only summit so far with Putin in 2019, also in Vladivostok. Photos released by North Korean state media show that Kim is traveling with his foreign minister, top military officials and senior cadres in his weapons sector, Yonhap News Agency of South Korea reported, indicating that munitions transfers could be on the summit agenda.
While state media in North Korea and Russia said the two leaders would meet, there has been no definitive schedule set for the summit, which could likely take place on Tuesday or Wednesday. Kim stopped in Khasan for his 2019 summit, where he was greeted at the station by young women in folk costumes with offerings of the traditional Russian welcome of bread and salt.
The US for months has accused North Korea of supplying munitions to help Putin’s war in Ukraine, something Moscow and Pyongyang have denied. It said again last week that arms negotiations between Russia and North Korea are “actively advancing.”
The most obvious items Pyongyang has and Moscow needs are artillery shells and rockets that Moscow can use in the Soviet-era weaponry it has pushed into action in Ukraine.
North Korea has some of the world’s largest supplies of munitions, which Russia needs as it burns through its stocks of artillery shells. The US has said any supplies would not alter the course of the war and has told Pyongyang it would pay a price for any arms transfers.
But Washington has few points of leverage to deter two of the western world’s most implacable geopolitical foes from cementing ties.
“The meeting is a recourse for two leaders on the precipice of desperation,” said Soo Kim, a former Korea analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency who now works at US-based management consulting firm LMI.
“Putin’s facing challenges in the war with Ukraine, including a shortage of artillery shells and weaponry,” she said adding, “Neither Kim nor Putin have much to lose in pursuing this meeting.”
Kim Jong Un may be seeking in return food aid as well as technology to help his state build a nuclear-powered submarine and deploy spy satellites. Any cash would also be of great help to North Korea’s paltry economy that is estimated to be smaller now than when Kim took power a decade ago, and which has sparse foreign currency reserves.
Discussions between Pyongyang and Moscow over North Korea providing further military support for Russia’s war in Ukraine are actively advancing, a senior NATO official said Monday. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited in July to request deliveries of munitions and the North Korean leader expects to continue those discussions, the official said.
Pyongyang, which has been banned from arms sales for about 15 years, rejects accusations it is supplying Russia. Yet the White House in December said it had evidence North Korea completed an initial arms shipment to the Wagner Group for use in Ukraine that included infantry rockets and missiles.
Seeking military aid from North Korea would mark a reversal for the two countries. The Soviet Union was the biggest backer for Pyongyang after it was officially formed 75 years ago and supplied it with weapons that were essential in its invasion of South Korea at the start of the 1950-1953 Korean War.