Friday, June 21, 2024

North Korea’s Kim arrives in Russia to meet Putin amid US threats

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has arrived in Russia for a rare summit with President Vladimir Putin to discuss a possible military deal.

Kim’s armoured train arrived at Khasan station, the main rail gateway to Russia’s Far East from North Korea, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported on Tuesday, citing an unnamed Russian official source.

The meeting is expected to be held on Tuesday afternoon on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in the Russian port city of Vladivostok, where Putin has already arrived.

Kim’s trip to Russia and meeting with Putin will be a full-scale visit to strengthen ties, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in a video posted online.

The meeting comes amid concerns in the west that Pyongyang plans to provide weapons to Moscow to replace stocks that have been heavily depleted during 18 months of fighting in Ukraine.

On Tuesday, Peskov dismissed US warnings on any arms deal, with Russian news agencies quoting him as saying: “As you know, while implementing our relations with our neighbours, including North Korea, the interests of our two countries are important to us, and not warnings from Washington.

“It is the interests of our two countries that we will focus on.”

Kim was accompanied by senior government officials, including military personnel, North Korea’s official KCNA news agency reported. The delegation is thought to include his foreign minister, Choe Sun-hui, and prominent party members in charge of defence industry and military affairs, including munitions industry department director Jo Chun-ryong.

“The presence of Jo Chun-ryong indicates that North Korea and Russia will conclude some type of agreement for munitions purchases,” stated Michael Madden, a North Korea leadership expert at the Washington-based Stimson Center.

Earlier, KCNA released photos of Kim’s departure from Pyongyang, complete with military guards of honour and crowds of people in dark suits and colourful dresses who waved flowers and flags as he boarded the green-and-yellow train.

The trip marks Kim’s first visit abroad in more than four years and the first since the Covid-19 pandemic.

US officials believe Putin is likely to focus on securing more supplies of North Korean artillery and other ammunition as he attempts to defuse a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

In return, Kim could seek energy and food aid, as well as advanced technology for satellites and nuclear-powered submarines that could increase the threat posed by North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes.

Some analysts believe, however, that Russia would be reluctant to share details of its closely guarded weapons technology in return for limited supplies of artillery shells and other munitions.

“Putin is unlikely to provide Kim with technology to miniaturise nuclear devices or propel nuclear-powered submarines because even a desperate war machine does not trade its military crown jewels for old munitions,” said Prof Leif-Eric Easley, a North Korea specialist at Ewha University in Seoul

Securing quantities of North Korean artillery shells and antitank missiles would add to US concerns about a protracted conflict in Ukraine.

“Arms discussions between Russia and the DPRK are expected to continue during Kim Jong-un’s trip to Russia,” stated White House national security council spokesperson Adrienne Watson, using the abbreviation for North Korea’s official name of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“We urge the DPRK to abide by the public commitments that Pyongyang has made to not provide or sell arms to Russia.”

On Monday, the US state department described Putin as desperate over the Ukraine conflict and renewed warnings that any arms deal could trigger US sanctions.

“Having to travel across the length of his own country to meet with an international pariah to ask for assistance in a war that he expected to win in the opening month, I would characterise it as him begging for assistance,” state department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

“I will remind both countries that any transfer of arms from North Korea to Russia would be in violation of multiple UN security council resolutions,” he added.

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