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North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in Russia amid US warnings not to sell arms

SEOUL/WASHINGTON/MOSCOW – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has arrived in Russia, the Japanese media reported on Tuesday, for what the Kremlin said would be a comprehensive discussion with Russian President Vladimir Putin, amid warnings from Washington that they should not agree on an arms deal.

Mr Kim left Pyongyang for Russia on Sunday on his private train, the North’s state media reported on Tuesday. He was accompanied by top arms industry and military officials and the Foreign Minister.

A Russian source with knowledge of the trip told Reuters that Mr Kim arrived in Russia on Tuesday morning, leaving his train to meet local officials in Khasan, the main rail gateway to Russia’s Far East region, before continuing his journey.

Mr Kim’s arrival was also reported on Tuesday by Russia’s state television channel Rossiya 1, which showed a train purportedly carrying the North Korean leader – with its signature olive green paint scheme – crossing a bridge.

Mr Kim does not travel abroad frequently, having made just seven trips away from his country and twice stepping across the inter-Korea border during his 12 years in power so far. Four of those trips were to the North’s main political ally, China.

“It will be a full-fledged visit,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “There will be negotiations between two delegations, and after that, if necessary, the leaders will continue their communication in a one-on-one format.”

Discussions could include humanitarian aid to North Korea and the United Nations Security Council resolutions imposed against Pyongyang, Russian officials said.

US officials, who were the first to say the visit was imminent, said arms talks between Russia and North Korea were actively advancing, and that Mr Kim and Mr Putin are likely to discuss providing Russia with weapons for the war in Ukraine.

Mr Putin arrived in the far eastern city of Vladivostok on Monday, Russia’s Tass news agency said. He is scheduled to attend the plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum, which runs until Wednesday.

Mr Peskov said that Mr Putin’s meeting with Mr Kim would come after the forum and that no news conference by the leaders is planned, according to Russian news agencies.

There has been no confirmation about the site of the summit.

Mr Kim’s train passed the junction for Vladivostok and headed northwards, Japan’s Kyodo News and South Korean media reported. They said he might meet Mr Putin at the Vostochny cosmodrome, more than 1,500km to the north of Vladivostok.

Mr Putin said on Tuesday that he was planning to go to Vostochny but did not say if he planned to meet Mr Kim there.

Closer Russia-North Korea cooperation

Washington and its allies have been voicing concern at recent signs of closer military cooperation between Russia and the nuclear-armed North. It will be Mr Kim’s second summit with Mr Putin, after they met in 2019 on his last trip abroad.

Pyongyang and Moscow have denied that North Korea would supply arms to Russia, which has expended vast stocks of weapons in more than 18 months of war.

Mr Peskov said Russia’s national interests would dictate its policies.

“As you know, while implementing our relations with our neighbours, including North Korea, the interests of our two countries are important to us, and not warnings from Washington,” Mr Peskov was quoted as saying by Russian media.

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The North Korean delegation includes prominent members of the party who handle defence industry and military affairs, including Munitions Industry Department director Jo Chun Ryong, an analyst said, which suggests that the visit will focus on defence industry cooperation.

“The presence of Jo Chun Ryong indicates that North Korea and Russia will conclude some type of agreement for munitions purchases,” said Mr Michael Madden, a North Korea leadership expert at the Washington-based Stimson Centre.

Mr Kim could offer artillery rounds from its 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 Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s office said many countries were watching with concern the summit between “North Korea, which has been sanctioned by the United Nations, and Russia, which is a permanent member of the Security Council”.

“As the President has said, we hope Russia will act responsibly as a permanent member of the UN Security Council,” a South Korean presidential official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

On Monday, Washington urged Pyongyang to abide by its promise not to sell arms to Russia that could be used in the Ukraine war, which it said would violate Security Council resolutions.

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North Korea is one of the few countries to have openly supported Russia since its invasion of Ukraine in 2022, and Mr Putin pledged last week to “expand bilateral ties in all respects in a planned way by pooling efforts”.

In a striking display of those deepening ties, Mr Kim gave a personal tour of an arms exhibition to Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu when he visited Pyongyang in July, and they stood together to watch a military parade that featured banned ballistic missiles.

As late as 2017, Russia had voted, along with China, to approve UN Security Council resolutions punishing North Korea for launching ballistic missiles and conducting underground nuclear tests. REUTERS

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