A train carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived in Russia on Tuesday ahead of a meeting with President Vladimir Putin that the United States has warned could see an arms deal to support Moscow’s assault on Ukraine. Making a rare foreign trip and his first since the pandemic, an unsmiling Kim waved from the doorway of his heavily armored private train as it departed Pyongyang on Sunday evening, according to images published by North Korean state media. He will meet Putin at an unspecified location in the Russian Far East region later this week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Russia has been seeking to secure more artillery shells for its war against Ukraine, and experts say the Kremlin will probably want advanced weapons systems — including nuclear-capable submarines and military reconnaissance satellites — in return. The visit may also see the leaders discuss the status of talks on North Korea’s denuclearisation program.
The two countries have long had complicated, hot-and-cold relations, but they have a mutual interest in strengthening their ties in light of their isolation. “By sending their leader to meet with the Russian president, they hope to show that they are not alone,” said Cha of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “If they are successful in their negotiations, it will be an additional boost for their domestic propaganda.”
Officials at the North Korean Ministry of Unification have also trumpeted expanding ties with Russia as a sign that Pyongyang is overcoming years of international isolation. “The meeting will help North Korea to send a message to the world that they can achieve great achievements in their diplomatic endeavors through bilateral talks with various countries,” the ministry said.
In a nod to Moscow’s security concerns, the Kremlin is not confirming a date or location for the Kim-Putin talks. However, they will likely occur in Vladivostok, the eastern Russian port city that hosted a Putin-Kim summit last year and is about four time zones east of Pyongyang. Putin arrived in the city on Monday for an international forum through Wednesday.
A KCNA report quoted Peskov as saying that the talks will be held in a “full-blown visit with talks between delegations” and an official lunch with a one-on-one meeting between the two leaders. The pair won’t hold a press conference, he added.