Putin and Kim Jong-un exchange rifles as North Korean leader continues Russia tour

Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un gave each other rifles as gifts when they met, the Kremlin has said, as the North Korean leader continued a tour of Russia on Friday involving a visit to a fighter jet factory.

Putin “gave [Kim] a rifle from our production of the highest quality. In return, he also received a North Korean-made rifle,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said. Putin also gifted the North Korean leader a “glove from a space suit that has been to space several times”.

The Kremlin said Kim’s visit to Russia’s Far East would last “a few more days”, and Kim’s train was soon pictured on Russian state media pulling into the station at Komsomolsk-on-Amur on Friday, welcomed by a group of women in Russian national costumes and headdresses, as North Korean officials waited by a specially constructed ramp and red carpet.

Some residents were pictured peering out from their balconies to watch as Kim’s convoy then swept past. City authorities said roads would be closed from 6am to 1pm on Friday to allow the leader free movement, according to local Telegram channels.

Putin told Russian state TV after the summit that Kim would visit an aircraft factory that builds fighter jets in the city, and then go to Vladivostok to oversee a display of Russian warships that would “demonstrate the capabilities of the Pacific Fleet” and visit a university and other facilities. Colleges in Russia’s Far East have historically accepted North Korean students.

The visit to the aircraft plant possibly hints at what Kim seeks to gain from Russia in exchange for help fuelling Putin’s war on Ukraine. Russia is eager for ammunition to continue fighting in Ukraine, while North Korea wants Moscow’s help to develop its missile and space programme. However, some analysts have questioned whether Russia, which has always closely guarded its sensitive weapons technologies, would be willing to share them with North Korea in exchange for what may end up being limited supplies of munitions moved slowly through their small land link.

Moscow also confirmed that Putin had “gratefully accepted Kim’s invitation” to visit Pyongyang, which North Korean state television announced earlier.

Peskov said Moscow will first “quickly prepare” to send foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to Pyongyang, with his trip expected in October, before a Putin visit can be arranged.

It would be Putin’s second trip to the world’s most reclusive state, with which Russia shares a short border. He visited Pyongyang in July 2000 to meet Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, just months after Putin was elected to the presidency.

In Pyongyang, North Korea’s Central News Agency praised Kim’s summit with Putin, saying the pair held “historic” talks, and Putin told reporters that he saw “possibilities” for military cooperation.

The US and South Korea both sounded warnings about any potential arms deal between the two pariah states. The White House said on Thursday that US national security adviser Jake Sullivan had spoken to his Japanese and South Korean counterparts about the Putin-Kim meeting. “They noted that any arms exports from the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] to Russia would directly violate multiple UN security council resolutions, including resolutions that Russia itself voted to adopt.”

There is widespread concern in Seoul that North Korea could receive advanced weapons technologies from Russia, including those related to military spy satellites, which would increase the threat posed by Kim’s military nuclear program.

Lim Soo-suk, South Korea’s foreign ministry spokesperson, said Moscow should realise there will be “very negative impacts” on its relations with Seoul if it proceeds with military cooperation with North Korea.

He said on Thursday: “We express our deep concern and regret that despite repeated warnings from the international community, North Korea and Russia discussed military cooperation issues, including satellite development, during their summit.

“Any science and technology cooperation that contributes to nuclear weapons and missile development, including satellite systems that involve ballistic missile technologies, runs against UN security council resolutions,” he said in a briefing.

Lim also pointed out that Kim’s delegation in Russia includes several people sanctioned by the security council over involvement in illicit North Korean weapons development activities, including Korean People’s Army Marshal Ri Pyong-chol and Jo Chun-yong, a ruling party official who handles munitions policies.

Kim Jong-dae, a former South Korean MP and visiting scholar at the Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies, believes the summit “signals a seismic change in north-east Asian geopolitics”, adding that a stronger alliance between North Korea, Russia and China could become a “destabilising force” in the region.

He said: “I think Russia has already tested the North Korean shells in battlefields and is now ready to expand its use going forward.”

Cheong Seong-chang, a researcher at the Sejong Institute, told Agence France-Presse: “North Korea-Russia relations can be said to have completely returned to the level of blood alliance during the cold war.”

He said that while there have been summits between the two countries before, “there has never been a time when North Korea brought in almost all of its key military officials like the one happening right now”.

With Agence France-Presse and Associated Press

The Guardian

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