North Korean leader Kim Jong-un left Pyongyang by train on Sunday for Russia, where he is due to meet President Vladimir Putin, the KCNA news agency announced on Tuesday.
Kim Jong-un “departed on his train on Sunday afternoon to travel to the Russian Federation”, leading a delegation of senior officials from the government, the armed forces and South Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party. North, wrote the official media.
Experts say the trip to Vladivostok, in Russia’s far east, where an annual economic forum is being held, could be about an arms deal. Mr. Putin is reportedly seeking to obtain North Korean weapons and ammunition for Russian forces fighting in Ukraine.
North Korea, for its part, would seek to obtain advanced technologies from Russia for its satellite and submarine program.
KCNA did not say where Mr. Kim’s train was on Tuesday, including whether or not he had already crossed the border into Russia.
On Monday, the agency announced that “respected Comrade Kim Jong-un will meet and hold discussions with Comrade Putin during his visit.”
Moscow had also confirmed this planned visit, the second by the North Korean leader to Russia since he came to power in 2012.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, however, assured Monday, before the official announcement of the trip, that no Kim-Putin meeting was planned as part of the Vladivostok economic forum.
“Begging” for help
Kim Jong-un had not left North Korea since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Kim Jong-il, father and predecessor of the current North Korean number one, was afraid to take the plane. His son also favors rail for his rare trips abroad.
According to Yang Moo-jin, president of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, Kim Jong-un lacks confidence in North Korean planes and maintains “concerns about the potential for air attacks from Washington.”
The White House said on September 5 that Kim Jong-un wanted to see Vladimir Putin to discuss arms sales.
The Russian president, forced to “cross his entire country to meet a pariah on the international scene in order to ask him for help in a war he hoped to win in a month”, is thus reduced to “begging” from the North Korean leader, criticized the State Department on Monday.
Russia and North Korea have historical ties and Kim Jong-un has repeatedly expressed his support to Moscow for his operations in Ukraine.
For Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Kookmin University, a Putin-Kim summit is part of Moscow’s “friendly diplomatic blackmail” against Seoul because Russia does not want the South Koreans supply weapons to Ukraine.
South Korea is in fact a major exporter of military equipment and has sold tanks to Poland, an ally of kyiv. But its long-standing domestic policy prohibits it from supplying weapons to parties engaged in real wars.
“The main concern of the Russian government at the moment is a possible delivery of South Korean munitions to Ukraine, not just one delivery but many deliveries,” Lankov told AFP.
Cheong Seong-chang, a researcher at the Sejong Institute, meanwhile told AFP that if North Korea intensified its military cooperation with Russia, “there would be an increased likelihood of a protracted conflict in Ukraine”. While as a reward for its aid to Moscow, “the development of North Korea’s nuclear submarines and reconnaissance satellites could progress at a faster pace.”