Sunday, June 23, 2024

North Korea’s leader meets Russian defense minister, first since Covid

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with visiting Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in his first known meeting with a foreign dignitary since the Covid-19 pandemic. Shoigu’s visit comes as North Korea is marking the anniversary of the armistice that ended fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War.

Kim and Shoigu discussed “matters of mutual concern” related to defence and regional security and viewed an exhibition of weapons including ballistic missiles, North Korean state media reported on Thursday.

The meeting between the two men was an “important occasion in further developing the strategic and traditional DPRK-Russia relations as required by the new century”, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said, referring to the acronym of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Kim led Shoigu on a tour of a display of new weapons and military equipment, KCNA reported, with pictures of the exhibition showing banned ballistic missiles, multi-axle transporter launchers and what appeared to be a new drone.

Shoigu also gave Kim a letter from Russian President Vladimir Putin, the KCNA said. Kim thanked Putin for sending a delegation led by Shoigu, who also held talks with North Korean Defence Minister Kang Sun Nam.

Shoigu’s trip to Pyongyang, the first known visit by a foreign dignitary in three years, comes as North Korea is marking the 70th anniversary of the armistice that ended hostilities in the 1950-53 Korean War.

A Chinese delegation, including Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Li Hongzhong, also visited Pyongyang for the celebrations.

North Korean authorities are expected to hold a large military parade in the capital on Thursday to mark the date of the end of the conflict, which saw China and the Soviet Union support the North against the United States-backed South.

Kim, the third generation of his family to rule the secretive North, has in the past used such events to display his goverment’s latest weaponry, including nuclear-capable missiles.

Russia and China are among a handful of countries that maintain friendly relations with North Korea, which is isolated on the international stage due to its development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

Pyongyang has backed Russia over the war in Ukraine, blaming US hegemony for forcing Moscow to invade its neighbour to protect its security interests. The administration of US President Joe Biden has accused North Korea of providing weapons to Russian forces in Ukraine, which Pyongyang has denied.

Moscow and Beijing have repeatedly blocked Western efforts to tighten sanctions against Pyongyang over its weapons programmes at the United Nations Security Council.

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