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PoliticsNorth Korea

Putin and Kim Jong Un meet in Russian Far East

September 13, 2023

Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un are engaged in talks over North Korea's space program and the political situation in Asia and Europe. The visit is Kim's first with a world leader since Pyongyang shut down over COVID-19.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (second from right) and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (right) visit the Vostochny Сosmodrome in the far eastern Amur region, Russia, September 13, 2023.
Russian state media released images of the leaders meeting in Vostochny in the Amur region in Russia's Far EastImage: Sputnik/Artem Geodakyan/REUTERS

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with Russian President Vladimir Putin Wednesday for a day of talks that began at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia's Far East.

The two leaders were at a remote Siberian rocket launch site, and began the day by inspecting a Soyuz-2 space facility.

Later, the two lavished one another with compliments during a state dinner.

Putin hints at space cooperation

Their decision to kick off their meeting at the cosmodrome may suggest that Kim is seeking Russian assistance for developing military satellites.

"That's why we came here. The leader of the DPRK shows great interest in rocket engineering, they are also trying to develop space," said Putin, using the abbreviation for North Korea's formal name, when asked by Russian reporters whether Russia would help Pyongyang build satellites,  

Kim told Putin that North Korea would be "together" with Russia in what he termed a "fight against imperialism," seemingly a reference to the West's response to Moscow's war in Ukraine

"Russia has risen to a sacred fight to protect its sovereignty and security... against the hegemonic forces. We will always support the decisions of President Putin and the Russian leadership... and we will be together in the fight against imperialism," Kim told Putin via a translator.

Kim traveled to Russia in his armored train, as state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported. He then drove by limousine to the lauch facility, where Putin said he was "very glad to see" him.

The Russian president said the meeting was taking place at a "special time," referring to the 75th anniversary of North Korea's founding.

Kim, through a translator, thanked Putin for taking the time to provide such a warm welcome despite him "being busy," and called relations with Russia the "number one priority for our country," according to footage broadcast on Russian TV.

The visit comes amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine and as North Korea continues to test missiles and other military equipment frequently, often defying UN sanctions. 

Western intelligence services have claimed the meeting was designed in part to allow Russia to acquire weapons and ammunition for its ongoing war in Ukraine.

Kim predicts 'great victory' for Russia over duck and dumpling dinner

At an official state dinner later Wednesday, both leaders praised one another and vowed to deepen ties.

According to Kremlin media reports, the two leaders and their respective military advisors dined on duck and fig salad, crab dumplings, sturgeon and beef, in a meal accompanied by a selection of Russian wines. 

At the outset of the event, both men proposed flowery toasts and well wishes while condemning Western powers as "evil."

Putin opened the event by raising a glass to the "future strengthening of cooperation and friendship between our countries," in comments broadcast on Russian state television.

The Russian president then went on to underscore Moscow's long ties with Pyongyang, saying, "Our relations were established back in Korea's fight for freedom in 1945, when Soviet and Korean soldiers fought side by side against Japanese militarists. And today we also strive to strengthen the bonds of camaraderie and good neighborliness." 

"We act," said Putin, "in the name of peace, stability and prosperity of our common region." 

Kim, who earlier told reporters that he and Putin had discussed, among other things, the political situation on the Korean Peninsula and in Europe, said, "I am deeply convinced that the heroic Russian army and people will brilliantly inherit the tradition of victory, [and] confidently demonstrate invaluable dignity and honor on the fronts of the special military operation."

Speaking through his translator, Kim added, "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."

A TV screen shows a report of North Korea's ballistic missiles with file footage of a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (left), during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023.
South Korean television was reporting on the meeting and the new missile launches simultaneously on WednesdayImage: Lee Jin-man/AP

North Korea continues regional provocations with ballistic missile launches

Neighboring South Korea earlier reported the launch of two short-range North Korean ballistic missiles at roughly the same time Putin and Kim met Wednesday morning.

The missiles were fired toward the Sea of Japan shortly before noon local time.

The Japanese coast guard confirmed the launch, saying the missiles appeared to have fallen outside Japan's exclusive economic zone.

The launch was the latest in a series of prohibited weapons tests conducted by North Korea this year, with the most recent involving two short-range ballistic missiles on August 30.

Additionally, North Korea recently failed in an attempt to place a spy satellite in orbit, hence the importance of the Vostochny Cosmodrome visit earlier in the day.

Significance of Kim's Russia visit

The thrust of Kim's first visit with a foreign leader in the years since Pyongyang walled itself off as a result of the coronavirus pandemic was primarily centered on defense cooperation.

China, which maintains relations with both countries, said, "The visit of the North Korean leader to Russia is an arrangement between the two countries and pertains to relations between North Korea and Russia."

Kim greets Russian minister Kozlov in Khasan.
Kim arrived on his train in Russia late on Tuesday nightImage: Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service/AP/picture alliance

The visit has raised concerns in the US about potential violations of international sanctions, and the possibility of a weapons deal as Russia has shown interest in North Korea's stockpile of artillery shells, and North Korea seeks to upgrade Soviet-era air and naval military equipment.

Washington previously suggested the two countries were laying the groundwork for military cooperation when Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited North Korea in July

js,tg/msh (AP, Reuters)