MOSCOW/SEOUL — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin met for a rare summit on Wednesday (Sept 13) at which they discussed military matters, the war in Ukraine and possible Russian help for the secretive Communist state’s satellite programme.
Mr Putin showed Mr Kim around Russia’s most advanced space rocket launch site in Russia’s Far East after Mr Kim arrived by train from North Korea. Mr Kim asked numerous detailed questions about rockets as Mr Putin showed him around the Vostochny Cosmodrome.
After the tour, Mr Putin, 70, and Mr Kim, 39, held talks for several hours with their ministers and then one-on-one, followed by a an opulent lunch of Russian “pelmeni” dumplings made with Kamchatka crab and then sturgeon with mushrooms and potatoes.
Mr Kim raised a toast with a glass of Russian wine to Mr Putin’s health, to the victory of “great Russia” and to Korean-Russian friendship, predicting victory for Russia in its “sacred fight” with the West in the Ukraine war.
“I firmly believe that the heroic Russian army and people will brilliantly inherit their victories and traditions and vigorously demonstrate their noble dignity and honour on the two fronts of military operations and building a powerful nation,” Mr Kim told Mr Putin.
“The Russian army and people will certainly win a great victory in the sacred struggle for the punishment of a great evil that claims hegemony and feeds an expansionist illusion,” Mr Kim added, raising his glass.
United States and South Korean officials have expressed concern that Mr Kim would provide weapons and ammunition to Russia, which has expended vast stocks in more than 18 months of war in Ukraine. Moscow and Pyongyang have denied such intentions.
Mr Putin gave numerous hints that military cooperation was discussed but disclosed few details. Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu attended the talks and the Kremlin said neighbours discuss sensitive issues which are not for discussing in public.
When asked by Russian media, who were given significant access at the summit, if Russia would help Mr Kim build satellites, Mr Putin said: “That’s why we came here.”
For Russia, the summit was an opportunity to needle the US, the big power supporter of Ukraine, though it was unclear just how far Mr Putin was prepared to go in fulfilling any North Korean wish lists of technology.
Mr Putin said Mr Kim now planned to visit military and civilian aviation factories in the Russian city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur and inspect the Russia’s Pacific fleet in Vladivostok.
Mr Putin and Mr Kim called each other “comrades” at lunch and Mr Putin repeatedly reminded Mr Kim that it was the Soviet Union which backed North Korea — and was first to recognise it just over 75 years to the day since it was established.
Amid the Ukraine war, which has become a grinding artillery war of attrition, the US and Kyiv’s other allies are watching to see if Mr Kim’s visit paves the way for a supply of artillery to Russia.
Russia has joined China in opposing new sanctions on North Korea, blocking a US-led push and publicly splitting the United Nations Security Council for the first time since it started punishing Pyongyang in 2006.
Asked about military cooperation, Mr Putin said Russia complied with international rules but that there were opportunities to explore.
The choice to meet at Vostochny Cosmodrome — a symbol of Russia’s ambitions as a space power — was notable, as North Korea twice failed to launch reconnaissance satellites in the past four months.
After showing Mr Kim around a building where the Angara, Russia’s new 42.7m space launch rocket, is assembled, Mr Putin said Mr Kim had shown a “great interest in rocket engineering” during the visit.
Ahead of his meeting with Mr Putin, Mr Kim signed the visitor book in Korean: “The glory to Russia, which gave birth to the first space conquerors, will be immortal.”
As Mr Kim was making his way through the forests of Russia by train, North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles from an area near the capital, Pyongyang, into the sea off its east coast.
It was the first such launch by the North while Kim was abroad, analysts said, demonstrating an increased level of delegation and more refined control systems for the country’s nuclear and missile programmes.
Mr Kim had made just seven trips abroad in his 12 years in power, all in 2018 and 2019. He also briefly stepped across the inter-Korean border twice.
The make-up of Mr Kim’s delegation to Russia, with the notable presence of Munitions Industry Department Director Jo Chun Ryong, suggested an agenda heavy on defence industry cooperation, analysts said.
“In Korea, there is a proverb: good clothes are those that are new, but old friends are best friends. And our people say: An old friend is better than two new ones,” Mr Putin told Mr Kim.
“This folk wisdom is fully applicable to modern relations between our countries.” REUTERS