Putin and Kim discuss military co-operation, Ukraine war at summit
Amid suspicions of arms trading, North Korea launches two ballistic missiles hours before the two leaders meet
Moscow/Seoul — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed military co-operation, the Ukraine war and possible Russian help for Pyongyang’s satellite programme at their summit on Wednesday.
Putin showed Kim around the Vostochny Cosmodrome, the most advanced space rocket launch site in Russia’s far east, after Kim arrived by train from North Korea. Kim asked many detailed questions about rockets.
After the tour, Putin and Kim met for several hours with their ministers and then one-on-one, followed by a an opulent lunch of Russian “pelmeni” dumplings made with Kamchatka crab and then sturgeon with mushrooms and potatoes.
Kim raised a toast with a glass of Russian wine to Putin’s health, to the victory of “great Russia” and to Korean-Russian friendship, predicting victory for Russia in its “sacred fight” with the West in the Ukraine war.
“I firmly believe that the heroic Russian army and people will brilliantly inherit their victories and traditions and vigorously demonstrate their noble dignity and honour on the two fronts of military operations and building a powerful nation,” Kim told Putin.
“The Russian army and people will certainly win a great victory in the sacred struggle for the punishment of a great evil that claims hegemony and feeds an expansionist illusion,” Kim said, raising his glass.
US and South Korean officials have expressed concern that Kim would supply weapons and ammunition to Russia, which has expended vast stocks in more than 18 months of war in Ukraine. Moscow and Pyongyang denied such intentions.
Putin gave many hints that military co-operation was discussed but gave few details. Defence minister Sergei Shoigu attended the talks. The Kremlin said neighbours discuss sensitive issues that are not for discussing in public.
Asked by Russian media if Russia would help Kim build satellites, Putin said: “That’s why we came here.”
For Russia, the summit was an opportunity to needle the US, but it was not clear just how far Putin would go in fulfilling any North Korean technology wish lists.
Putin said Kim plans to visit military and civilian aviation factories in the Russian city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur and inspect the Russia’s Pacific fleet in Vladivostok.
Putin and Kim called each other “comrades” at lunch and Putin repeatedly reminded Kim that it was the Soviet Union that backed North Korea — and was first to recognise it just more than 75 years to the day since it was established.
Amid the grinding artillery war of attrition in Ukraine, Kyiv’s allies are watching to see if Kim’s visit paves the way for a supply of artillery to Russia.
Russia has joined China in opposing new sanctions on North Korea, blocking a US-led push and publicly splitting the UN Security Council for the first time since it started punishing Pyongyang in 2006.
Asked about military co-operation, Putin said Russia complies with international rules but that there are opportunities to explore.
The decision to meet at Vostochny Cosmodrome — a symbol of Russia’s ambitions as a space power — was notable, given the failure of two North Korean launches of reconnaissance satellites in the past four months.
After showing Kim around a building where the Angara, Russia’s new 42.7m space launch rocket, is assembled, Putin said Kim showed a “great interest in rocket engineering”.
Before meeting Putin, Kim signed the visitor book in Korean with the comment: “The glory to Russia, which gave birth to the first space conquerors, will be immortal.”
As Kim’s train made its way through Russian forests, North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles near the capital, Pyongyang, into the sea off its east coast.
This was the North’s first such launch while Kim was abroad, analysts said, demonstrating an increased level of delegation and more refined control systems for the country’s nuclear and missile programmes.
Kim had made just seven trips abroad in his 12 years in power, all in 2018 and 2019. He also briefly stepped across the inter-Korean border twice.
The makeup of Kim’s delegation to Russia, with the notable presence of munitions industry department director Jo Chun Ryong, suggested an agenda heavy on defence industry co-operation, analysts said.
“In Korea, there is a proverb: good clothes are those that are new, but old friends are best friends. And our people say: an old friend is better than two new ones,” Putin told Kim.
“This folk wisdom is fully applicable to modern relations between our countries.”
Update: September 13 2023
This story has been updated with new information.
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