Sunday, September 17, 2023
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un has concluded his visit to Russia, strengthening the diplomatic ties with Vladimir Putin, while raising concerns in the West about potential arms trade between Pyongyang and Moscow amid the Ukraine conflict.
Kim's extensive tour of Russia's far eastern region, commencing on Tuesday, has been marked by a strong emphasis on military matters. His entourage primarily consisted of military officers, and he engaged in symbolic gestures such as exchanging rifles with Putin and touring a fighter jet factory in Komsomolsk-on-Amur.
Before his departure, Kim received gifts from a regional governor, including "five kamikaze drones and a 'Geran-25' reconnaissance drone with vertical takeoff," according to TASS, the Russian news agency. The governor of the Primorye region also offered Kim a bulletproof vest and special clothing designed to evade thermal cameras.
On Sunday, a video of Kim's departure was released by Ria Novosti, accompanied by a "departure ceremony" at the Artyom-Primorsky-1 station. Kim bid farewell to a Russian delegation led by Natural Resources Minister Alexander Kozlov and waved from his train as it departed, set to travel approximately 250 kilometres towards the border.
Russia and North Korea, both historically aligned, face extensive global sanctions – Russia for its involvement in the Ukraine conflict and North Korea for its nuclear tests. Kim's visit, his first official trip abroad since the onset of the pandemic, has heightened Western concerns about the possibility of Moscow and Pyongyang disregarding sanctions to engage in arms trade.
Following their meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, Putin expressed optimism about increased collaboration with North Korea and potential military cooperation. Russia is reportedly interested in procuring North Korean ammunition to support its operations in Ukraine, while Pyongyang seeks Russia's assistance in advancing its condemned missile program. However, the Kremlin has stated that no agreements have been or will be reached.
During Kim's visit, he met with the Russian defense minister in Vladivostok and inspected advanced weaponry, including a hypersonic missile system. Smiles were exchanged as they reviewed Russian nuclear bombers at an airfield and boarded a warship, as shown in a video released by the Russian defense ministry.
North Korean news agency KCNA characterized the atmosphere during Kim's visit as "fervent and warm," heralding a "new era of friendship, solidarity, and cooperation" between the two nations. In response, Putin accepted an invitation to visit North Korea and offered to send a North Korean into space, marking a potential historic milestone.