Where: Russia, Vostochny Cosmodrome
Who’s involved: North Korean leader Kim Jong un, Russian President Vladimir Putin
On 10/09/2023 Kim Jong Un left Pyongyang in his private train to Russia accompanied by top arms industry and military officials. Two days later, Kim Jong Un arrived in Russia where President Putin was waiting for him.
The US White House reported last week already that it was likely that Kim Jong Un was going to visit Russia.
The Presidents met at the Vostochny space center, which had symbolic importance. In fact, Putin stated that he was interested in helping Pyongyang build satellites. Kim Jong Un appears to have a large interest in missile technology.
According to the US, Putin and Kim Jong Un will discuss arms deliveries, as Russia is urgently looking for ammunition for its war in Ukraine. In turn, North Korea would like to get access to Russian defense technology; this can include satellites and nuclear submarines.
On 11/09/2023, Washington urged Pyongyang to honor its promise not to sell weapons to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine, saying this would violate the Security Council resolutions banning all arms deals with North Korea.
Putin declared that he and Kim Jong Un will “talk about all issues” when he was asked if military-technical cooperation would be on the agenda, but did not specify the topics. A Kremlin spokesperson said the countries are cooperating on “sensitive issues” and the information can not be shared publicly.
Kim Jong Un stated during the meeting to Putin that “Russia has entered into a sacred struggle to protect its sovereignty and security from hegemonic forces and we will always support the decisions of President Putin and the Russian leadership and fight together against imperialism”.
On 12/09/2023, the meeting between Kim Jong Un and Putin came to an end, it is still unclear if the meeting has led to agreements on military cooperation. Kim Jong un has however made clear during the meeting that he wants to cooperate with Russia and that the ties with the neighboring country are of “highest priority.”
Kim Jong Un does not travel abroad frequently, seven trips away from his country with two of them being across the inter-Korean border in his twelve years of being North’s Korean leader. Four of those trips were to China, North Korea’s only treaty ally and main economic partner. His trip to Russia was his first trip abroad after the corona pandemic and even in the last four years.
Washington and its allies have expressed concerns about the meeting between Kim Jong Un and Putin because it shows signs of closer military cooperation between Russia and North Korea.
The impact of Kim Jong Un delivering artillery rounds from the stockpile of North Korea to Russia, can change Russia’s capacity in the short term in the Ukraine war.
US officials warned Kim Jong Un that North Korea would pay a price if they would supply Russia with weapons. Both Putin and Kim Jong Un are denying US’s claim that the meeting’s aim is the acquisition of North Korean weapons to use in the war against Ukraine.
Discussion between Kim Jong Un and Putin could also include humanitarian aid to North Korea and discussions about the U.N. Security Council resolutions imposed against Pyongyang, according to Russian officials. North Korea is one of the few countries that have openly supported Russia since the beginning of the war with Ukraine openly. Russia and China, however, both voted for Security Council resolutions in 2017 to punish Pyongyang for launching nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches.
Pyongyang's relations with Moscow are in the spotlight as Kim Jong Un, after four years of traveling abroad, chose to visit Russia instead of China, giving rise to the idea that Kim wants to pit the two superpowers, Russia and China, against each other. So far, China stated it has no problems with Russia and North Korea having a meeting and that “at present, China-North Korea relations are developing well.”
Beyond the potential weapons acquisition, the meeting in itself could have implications for the war in Ukraine, tensions with South Korea and Japan, and the rivalry between China and the US.
So far it is not known what Putin and Kim Jong Un discussed. There is still a possibility that North Korea will supply Russia with weapons for the war in Ukraine, but the US has warned Kim Jong Un that this would be in violation of Security Council resolutions. If North Korea does supply weapons, Russia's position in the war in Ukraine could change quickly. So far, China has not shown any interest in the visit between Russia and North Korea.
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