SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived in Russia on Tuesday for an expected meeting Meeting with President Vladimir Putin That has raised concerns about a possible arms deal for Moscow’s war in Ukraine, joined by senior military officials in charge of nuclear-capable weapons and munitions factories.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim had boarded the ship his personal trait Sunday afternoon, accompanied by unnamed members of the country’s ruling party, government and military.
South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Jeon Ha Gyu said in a briefing that the South Korean military had assessed the train, which crossed into Russia sometime early Tuesday, without elaborating on how the military obtained the information. Kim’s delegation is likely to include his foreign minister, Choe Sun Hui, and his two top military officials, Korean People’s Army marshals Ri Pyong Chol and Pak Jong Chon.
Other officials identified in photos shared by North Korean state media could provide a clue to what Kim might expect from Putin and what he would be willing to give.
Kim is apparently bringing along Jo Chun Ryong, a ruling party official in charge of munitions policy who has accompanied the leader on recent tours of factories that make artillery shells and rockets.
North Korea may have tens of millions of Soviet-style artillery shells and rockets that could provide a huge boost to the Russian army in Ukraine, analysts say.
Photos also identified Pak Thae Song, chairman of North Korea’s Space Science and Technology Committee, and Navy Admiral Kim Myong Sik, who are linked to North Korean efforts to acquire spy satellites and nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarines. Experts say North Korea would have difficulty acquiring such capabilities without outside help, although it is not clear whether Russia would share such sensitive technologies.
Kim Jong Un could also seek much-needed energy and food aid, analysts said. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters that Tokyo would watch with concern the outcome of the meeting between Kim and Putin, including the “impact it may have on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”
According to Russian news agency TASS, Kim and Putin could meet in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok, where Putin arrived on Monday to attend an international forum that runs until Wednesday. Putin’s first meeting with Kim took place in 2019 in the city, which is about 680 kilometers north of Pyongyang.
Russian news agencies quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying Putin and Kim would meet after the Vladivostok forum, but the reports did not specify when or where.
Peskov said the meeting would include a luncheon in Kim’s honor.
Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko said Russia would inform South Korea about the results of the meeting upon request: “The South Koreans have an embassy in Moscow. If they want, we can provide them with the information we have.”
Kim is making his first foreign trip since the COVID-19 pandemic, during which North Korea imposed strict border controls for more than three years.
Associated Press journalists near the North Korea-Russia border on Monday saw a green train with yellow trim, similar to the one Kim used on previous trips abroad, at a train station on the North Korean side of a border river.
US officials released information last week that North Korea and Russia were arranging a meeting between their leaders.
U.S. officials say Putin could focus on that Securing further deliveries of North Korean artillery and other munitions to replenish dwindling reserves as he tries to fend off a Ukrainian counteroffensive and show he is capable of ending a long war of attrition. That could potentially increase pressure on the U.S. and its partners to continue negotiations as concerns grow about a protracted conflict, despite supplying large quantities of advanced weapons to Ukraine over the past 17 months.
“Arms talks between Russia and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are expected to continue during Kim Jong Un’s trip to Russia,” White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”. “We urge the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to abide by public commitments made by Pyongyang not to supply or sell weapons to Russia.”
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Washington would closely monitor the meeting, reminding both countries that “any arms transfer from North Korea to Russia would be a violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions” and that the U.S. “will not hesitate “to push through new resolutions.” Sanctions.”
After decades of a complicated, heated relationship, Russia and North Korea have been moving closer since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. The tie-up has been driven by Putin’s need for war aid and Kim’s efforts to increase the visibility of his partnerships with traditional allies Moscow and Beijing as he seeks to break out of diplomatic isolation and make North Korea part of a united front against Washington.
The USA accuses North Korea of supplying Russia with weapons and, among other things, selling artillery shells to the Russian mercenary group Wagner. Both Russian and North Korean officials denied such claims.
But speculation about the countries’ military cooperation grew after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made a rare visit to North Korea in July, when Kim invited him to a weapons exhibition and a major military parade in the capital, where he unveiled intercontinental ballistic missiles aimed at the US should target mainland.
Following that visit, Kim toured North Korea’s weapons factories, including a plant producing artillery systems, where he urged workers to speed up the development and mass production of new types of ammunition. Experts say Kim’s visits to the factories likely served a dual purpose: promoting the modernization of North Korea’s weapons and examining artillery and other supplies that could be exported to Russia.
Associated Press journalists Jim Heintz in Tallinn, Estonia; Aamer Madhani and Matthew Lee in Washington; Dake Kang and Ng Han Guan in Fangchuan, China; and Haruka Nuga in Tokyo contributed to this report.