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Putin and N. Korea’s Kim discuss military matters, war in Ukraine and satellites

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin met for a rare summit on Wednesday at which they discussed military matters, the war in Ukraine and possible Russian help for the secretive communist state’s satellite programme.

Mr Putin showed Mr Kim around Russia’s most advanced space rocket launch site in Russia’s Far East after Mr Kim arrived by train from North Korea.

Mr Kim asked numerous detailed questions about rockets, as Mr Putin showed him around the Vostochny Cosmodrome.

After the tour, Mr Putin, 70, and Mr Kim, 39, held talks for several hours with their ministers and then one on one, followed by an opulent lunch of Russian “pelmeni” dumplings made with Kamchatka crab, and then sturgeon with mushrooms and potatoes.

Mr Kim raised a toast with a glass of Russian wine to Mr 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,” Mr Kim told Mr 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,” Mr Kim added, raising his glass.

US and South Korean officials have expressed concern that Mr Kim would discuss providing weapons and ammunition to Russia, which has expended vast stocks in more than 18 months of war in Ukraine. Moscow and Pyongyang have denied such intentions.

Mr Putin gave numerous hints that military cooperation was discussed but disclosed few details.

When asked by the Russian media, who were given significant access at the summit, if Russia would help Mr Kim build satellites, Mr Putin said: “That’s why we came here.”

For Russia, the summit was an opportunity to needle the United States, the big-power supporter of Ukraine, though it was unclear just how far Mr Putin was prepared to go in fulfilling any North Korean wish lists of technology.

Mr Putin and Mr Kim called each other “comrades” at lunch.

Amid the Ukraine war, which has become a grinding artillery war of attrition, the US and Kyiv’s other allies are watching to see if Mr 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 United Nations Security Council for the first time since it started punishing Pyongyang in 2006. Asked about military cooperation, Mr Putin said Russia complied with international rules, but that there were opportunities to explore.

The choice to meet at Vostochny Cosmodrome – a symbol of Russia’s ambitions as a space power – was notable, as North Korea twice failed to launch reconnaissance satellites in the past four months.

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The Russian media said Mr Putin showed Mr Kim around the building where Russia’s new space launch rocket, the Angara, is assembled. The 42.7m rocket launches objects into low Earth orbit.

The US has accused North Korea of providing arms to Russia, but it is unclear whether any deliveries have been made. Both Russia and North Korea have denied those claims, but promised to deepen defence cooperation.

Hours ahead of the anticipated summit, North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles from an area near the capital, Pyongyang, into the sea off its east coast, South Korea’s military and the Japanese government said.

It was the first such launch by the North while Mr Kim was abroad, analysts said. He has travelled outside the country only seven times in his 12 years in power, all in 2018 and 2019. He also briefly stepped across the inter-Korea border twice.

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Asked whether the leaders would discuss weapons, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the two countries cooperate in “sensitive” areas, which would not be made public, according to the Interfax news agency.

“As neighbours, our countries implement cooperation in sensitive areas that should not become the subject of public disclosure and announcement. But this is quite natural for neighbouring states,” he said.

On Tuesday, Mr Peskov said that Mr Kim’s visit would be a “fully fledged” one and that the two sides would conduct “negotiations”. Humanitarian aid to North Korea and UN Security Council resolutions imposed on Pyongyang may also be discussed, Russian officials have said.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the talks are important considering geopolitical changes in the world.

“Bilateral contacts are very important. And the situation on the Korean Peninsula is, of course, of utmost importance for security and stability in the region,” state news agency RIA quoted ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova as saying.

The North Korean leader travelled to Russia with his top military officials, including Korean People’s Army marshal Pak Jong Chon and Munitions Industry Department director Jo Chun Ryong, suggesting an agenda heavy on defence industry cooperation, analysts said.

Mr Kim could offer artillery rounds from North Korea’s large stockpile, which could replenish Russia’s capabilities in the short term, but questions about the ammunition’s quality may limit the overall impact, military analysts said. South Korea and the US have warned that such a deal would violate UN Security Council resolutions, which Russia as a permanent member of the council voted to approve.

North Korea is one of the few countries to have openly supported Russia over the Ukraine conflict, and Putin pledged last week to “expand bilateral ties in all respects in a planned way by pooling efforts”. REUTERS

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