SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived at a cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East on Wednesday for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid confrontations with the United States.
Putin greeted Kim at the entrance to a launch vehicle assembly hall. The two men shook hands and Putin said he was “very happy to see Kim.” Kim’s translator thanked Putin for the warm welcome, “even though he was busy.” The two leaders will inspect the cosmodrome and then sit down for talks, Russian state media reported.
Hours earlier, North Korea fired two ballistic missiles toward the sea, extending its highly provocative series of North Korean weapons tests since early 2022, as Kim used the distraction of Putin’s war on Ukraine to accelerate his weapons development.
For Putin, the meeting with Kim is an opportunity to replenish ammunition stocks 18 month old war has dried up. For Kim, it is a chance to circumvent crippling UN sanctions and years of diplomatic isolation. Kim is expected to search economic aid and military technology, although an arms deal would violate international sanctions that Russia has supported in the past.
South Korea’s chief of staff did not immediately disclose how far the North Korean missiles flew. The Japanese Coast Guard, citing Tokyo’s Defense Ministry, said the missiles had probably already landed but continued to urge ships to watch for falling objects.
Kim’s personal train stopped early Tuesday at Khasan, a train station on the Russia-North Korea border, where he was greeted by a military honor guard and a brass band. He was received on a red carpet by regional governor Oleg Kozhemyako and Natural Resources Minister Alexander Kozlov, according to North Korean state media and a video posted on social media.
Kim said his decision to visit Russia four years after his last visit shows that Pyongyang is “giving priority to the strategic importance” of its ties with Moscow, North Korea’s official news agency said on Wednesday. The Korea Central News Agency said Kim then left for his destination, but did not specify where.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu will be part of the Russian delegation, Peskov said.
Kim’s delegation includes Foreign Minister Choe Sun Hui and his top military officials, including Korean People’s Army Marshals Ri Pyong Chol and Pak Jong Chon, and Defense Minister Kang Sun Nam.
Other officials identified in North Korean state media photos during his trip could provide a clue to what Kim might expect from Putin and what he would be willing to give.
One of them is Jo Chun Ryong, a ruling party official in charge of ammunition policy, who recently accompanied him on tours of factories producing artillery shells and rockets, according to the South Korean Unification Ministry.
Photos also identified Pak Thae Song, chairman of North Korea’s Space Science and Technology Committee, and Navy Admiral Kim Myong Sik, who are linked to North Korean efforts to acquire spy satellites and nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarines. Experts say North Korea would have difficulty acquiring such capabilities without outside help, although it is not clear whether Russia would share such sensitive technology.
Analysts say North Korea may have tens of millions of obsolete Soviet-style artillery shells and rockets that could provide a huge boost to the Russian army in Ukraine. Kim Jong Un may also be seeking energy and food. According to Russian news agencies, Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko said Russia could talk to the North Korean delegation about humanitarian assistance.
South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Lim Soo-suk said Seoul was maintaining communication with Moscow and was closely monitoring Kim’s visit.
“No UN member state should violate Security Council sanctions against North Korea by engaging in illicit arms trafficking, and must not, under any circumstances, engage in military cooperation with North Korea that undermines the peace and stability of the international community,” Lim said at a briefing.
The USA accuses North Korea of supplying Russia with weapons and, among other things, selling artillery shells to the Russian mercenary group Wagner. Both Russian and North Korean officials denied such claims.
Speculation about their military cooperation increased after Russian Defense Minister Shoigu visited North Korea in July. Kim then toured his weapons factories, which experts said had the dual goal of promoting the modernization of North Korea’s weapons and examining artillery and other supplies that could be exported to Russia.
Associated Press journalists Jim Heintz and Daria Litvinova in Tallinn, Estonia; Aamer Madhani and Matthew Lee in Washington; Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Dake Kang and Ng Han Guan in Fangchuan, China; Haruka Nuga and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo; and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed.