North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived at a Russian industrial city to visit a military aviation plant on Friday, Russian agencies reported, following his summit with President Vladimir Putin.
Historic allies, Russia and North Korea are both under rafts of global sanctions — Moscow for its Ukraine conflict, Pyongyang for its nuclear tests — with Kim’s visit sparking concern from Kyiv’s allies over possible arms agreements.
Two days after meeting Putin at a spaceport, Kim’s bullet-proof train pulled into Komsomolsk-on-Amur in Russia’s far east, where he was met with flowers, music, a dance group and ceremonial loaves of bread, the Interfax agency said.
Kim, who rarely leaves his country, is in the key Russian industrial centre to visit a military and civil aviation firm.
While Pyongyang wants Moscow’s help to develop its missile programme, US officials and experts have said Russia is interested in buying North Korean ammunition to use in Ukraine.
TASS news agency reported Kim visited an aviation plant named after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin — the first person in space.
TASS said the plant produces Russia’s Sukhoi Su-35 and Su-57 fighter aircraft.
When Kim’s train arrived in Russia on Tuesday — having left Pyongyang on Sunday — the North Korean leader was gifted a signed photo of Gagarin at the border.
Exchange of rifles
Kim held talks with Putin at the Vostochny cosmodrome on Wednesday.
Afterwards, Putin said on television that Kim “will visit factories where civilian and combat aviation equipment is produced” in Komsomolsk-on-Amur.
He added that Kim would also visit the far east port of Vladivostok to oversee a display of Russian warships.
“There is also a military component in Vladivostok… to demonstrate the capabilities of the Pacific Fleet,” Putin told state media.
Kim will visit the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, as well as the Russian Academy of Sciences, including laboratories researching marine biology, Putin added.
Kim’s far east visit will last a few more days, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday.
The Kremlin also confirmed that Putin, who has sought to strengthen alliances with other leaders ostracised by the West, had accepted Kim’s invitation to visit North Korea.
At their summit, Putin “gave (Kim) a rifle from our production of the highest quality. In return, he also received a North Korean-made rifle,” Peskov said.
Putin also gifted the North Korean leader a “glove from a space suit that has been to space several times”.
US consults Tokyo, Seoul
Peskov said Moscow will “quickly prepare” to send Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Pyongyang — with his trip expected in October — before arranging a Putin visit.
It would be Putin’s second trip to North Korea. He met Kim’s father Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang in July 2000, shortly after becoming president.
More than two decades later, Russia is facing unprecedented isolation from the West over Moscow’s Ukraine offensive, with Putin seeking to boost Soviet-era alliances.
Kim’s visit to Russia is his first official trip abroad since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out.
Both countries are under a raft of sanctions, and Kim’s visit has sparked widespread concern over illicit arms agreements.
Kim is accompanied by a military-heavy entourage, while top Russian military officials were also involved in the Putin talks.
After the summit, Putin told reporters that he saw “possibilities” for military cooperation.
Western countries warned Moscow and Pyongyang against making an arms deal as the conflict in Ukraine grinds on.
The White House said Thursday that US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had spoken with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts to discuss the Putin-Kim meeting.
They noted that any arms exports from North Korea to Russia “would directly violate multiple UN Security Council resolutions, including resolutions that Russia itself voted to adopt”, a White House statement said.