Accompanied by his key military advisors responsible for nuclear-capable weaponry and munitions production facilities, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made his arrival in Russia on Tuesday. During this visit, he is anticipated to engage in a rare meeting with President Vladimir Putin, raising concerns in Western circles about the potential for an arms agreement that could impact Moscow’s involvement in the conflict in Ukraine.
The official news agency of North Korea reported that Kim embarked on his personal train journey from the capital city, Pyongyang, on a Sunday afternoon. The report also mentioned his travel companions, including undisclosed members from the nation’s ruling party, government officials, and military personnel.
Jeon Ha Gyu, the spokesperson for South Korea’s Defense Ministry, conveyed in a briefing that their military intelligence indicates Kim’s train entered Russian territory sometime early on Tuesday. He did not provide specific details regarding the source of this information.
North Korean state media displayed images of Kim Jong Un as he walked past honor guards and crowds of civilians holding the national flag and flowers. Additionally, there were photographs of him waving to onlookers from the green-and-yellow armored train just before its departure. Kim’s entourage likely comprises his foreign minister, Choe Sun Hui, and prominent military figures, including Korean People’s Army Marshals Ri Pyong Chol and Pak Jong Chon.
At the station, a group of senior officials was present to give the leader a warm farewell, as reported by the Korean Central News Agency. However, it did not specify whether the train had already crossed the border. According to unverified information from Russian regional sources, Japanese broadcaster TBS reported that Kim’s train had indeed crossed the border and arrived in the border town of Khasan.
A concise statement posted on the Kremlin’s website on Monday revealed that the visit occurred at President Putin’s invitation and would take place “in the coming days.” While the Korean Central News Agency mentioned that the leaders would meet, it did not provide details regarding the exact time and location of the meeting.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated that Putin and Kim will lead their respective delegations in discussions and might also have a one-on-one meeting if deemed necessary. Additionally, Putin intends to host an official dinner in honor of Kim’s visit.
According to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, the discussions are set to revolve around bilateral relations. He emphasized the commitment to fostering positive and mutually advantageous relations with neighboring countries, including North Korea.
Photographs from North Korean state media depict Kim Jong Un walking past honor guards and enthusiastic crowds, as well as waving from his green-and-yellow armored train as it prepared to depart. Among his entourage are expected to be high-ranking officials, including Foreign Minister Choe Sun Hui and top military figures like Korean People’s Army Marshals Ri Pyong Chol and Pak Jong Chon.
The possibility of Vladivostok, an eastern Russian city, serving as the venue for these talks has been suggested. Notably, Vladivostok is where Kim and Putin had their first meeting in 2019 and is located approximately 425 miles (680 kilometers) north of Pyongyang.
This journey marks Kim’s first foreign trip since the COVID-19 pandemic, which led North Korea to enforce strict border controls for over three years. While Kim has displayed a preference for using planes over his father’s aversion to flying, he has also employed his personal train for meetings with Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and former U.S. President Donald Trump, symbolizing his family’s dynastic rule.
Near the North Korea-Russia border, reporters observed a green train with yellow accents, reminiscent of Kim’s previous foreign travels, at a station on the North Korean side of a border river. The train was seen moving back and forth between the station and the approach to the bridge connecting the two countries but had not crossed the bridge as of 7 p.m. local time (1000 GMT).
Speculation has arisen that a Kim-Putin meeting could occur as early as Tuesday, based on information from unidentified South Korean government sources reported by the Chosun Ilbo newspaper, Yonhap news agency, and others. However, South Korea’s Presidential Office, Defense Ministry, and National Intelligence Service have not yet confirmed these details.
U.S. officials recently released intelligence suggesting that North Korea and Russia were arranging a meeting between their leaders, as they expanded their cooperation amid deepening confrontations with the United States.
The discussions between Putin and Kim are expected to include talks on securing additional supplies of North Korean artillery and other munitions for Russia, as it seeks to address declining reserves and counter a Ukrainian counteroffensive. This could exert pressure on the U.S. and its allies, given concerns about a prolonged conflict, despite their substantial shipments of advanced weaponry to Ukraine over the past 17 months.
The White House National Security Council spokesperson, Adrienne Watson, noted that arms discussions between Russia and North Korea are likely to continue during Kim Jong Un’s visit and urged North Korea to honor its commitments not to provide or sell arms to Russia.
The State Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, emphasized that any transfer of arms from North Korea to Russia would violate multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, and the U.S. would not hesitate to impose new sanctions.
North Korea possesses significant quantities of artillery shells and rockets based on Soviet designs, potentially bolstering the Russian military’s capabilities.
In exchange, Kim could seek energy and food assistance, as well as advanced weapons technologies, including those related to intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarines, and military reconnaissance satellites.
Concerns arise over the potential transfer of Russian technology, which could enhance the threat posed by North Korea’s growing arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles targeting the U.S., South Korea, and Japan. Notably, Kim’s delegation may include individuals linked to North Korean efforts to acquire spy satellites and nuclear-capable submarines.
Kim Jong Un appears to be accompanied by Jo Chun Ryong, a ruling party official overseeing munitions policies, who has recently joined the leader on tours of factories producing artillery and missiles.
Russia and North Korea have been drawing closer since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Putin’s need for military assistance and Kim’s efforts to strengthen alliances with traditional allies Moscow and Beijing have played a role in this bond. North Korea, while accelerating its weapons development during the Ukraine crisis, has laid blame on Washington for the situation, asserting that Western hegemonic policies justified Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
North Korea is one of only a few nations, alongside Russia and Syria, to recognize the independence of two Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine (Donetsk and Luhansk). It has also expressed interest in sending construction workers to assist in rebuilding efforts in those areas.
Both Russia and China have thwarted U.S.-led efforts at the U.N. Security Council to intensify sanctions against North Korea due to its increasing missile tests, all while accusing Washington of exacerbating tensions through military exercises with South Korea and Japan.
The United States has accused North Korea of supplying arms to Russia, including artillery shells sold to the Russian mercenary group Wagner, since last year. Russian and North Korean officials have denied these allegations. However, speculation about their military cooperation heightened after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made a rare visit to North Korea in July, during which Kim invited him to an arms exhibition and a massive military parade showcasing ICBMs targeting the U.S. mainland.
Following this visit, Kim inspected North Korea’s weapons factories, with a particular focus on a facility producing artillery systems. His visits likely aimed to encourage modernization efforts within North Korean weaponry and explore potential exports to Russia.
Some analysts believe that a Kim-Putin meeting may symbolize more symbolic gains than substantial military cooperation. Russia, known for guarding its most vital weapons technologies closely, may be hesitant to engage in significant technology transfers with North Korea for what is likely to be limited war supplies transported via a small rail link between the two countries.