MOSCOW/SEOUL — Russian President Vladimir Putin said he and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would discuss Pyongyang’s satellite programme, and Mr Kim said Moscow has his full backing in its “sacred fight” against the West, as they met on Wednesday (Sept 13) at a cosmodrome in Russia.
When asked whether the two leaders would talk about obtaining supplies from the North to replenish Moscow’s dwindling stock of weapons and ammunition, Mr Putin said they would discuss “all issues”. Washington and its allies believe defence cooperation is a top agenda item for the meeting.
“That’s why we came here,” Mr Putin said when reporters asked whether Russia would help Mr Kim build satellites. “The leader of the DPRK shows great interest in rocket engineering; they are also trying to develop space.”
DPRK is short for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s formal name.
At the opening of the meeting with Mr Putin, Mr Kim said it was an unwavering position of the North to further develop its traditional friendship and ties with Russia.
“I find it an honour that the president has prepared an opportunity to meet at a special environment at the launch station which is the heart of your position as a space superpower and given us a deep understanding of the way forward,” Mr Kim said.
Mr Kim also told Mr Putin the Kremlin chief has his full backing in the “sacred fight” Moscow is waging “against the hegemonic forces”.
“We will always support the decisions of President Putin and the Russian leadership… and we will be together in the fight against imperialism,” Mr Kim told Mr Putin, speaking via an interpreter.
The summit between the leaders of the two countries, which have become increasingly isolated internationally, is being watched closely by Washington and allies, who suspect they could agree to trade arms and defence technology.
US 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.
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.
“I am glad to see you,” Mr Putin said earlier as welcomed him at Vostochny Cosmodrome, a modern space launch facility in the Amur region of Russia’s Far East. “This is our new cosmodrome.”
Mr Kim has made it a top priority to launch a spy satellite, as he pushes his nuclear-armed country to step up the development of ballistic missiles, drones and attack submarines.
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.”
Television footage showed Mr Putin giving Mr Kim a tour of the facility. Russian state television said Mr Kim asked Mr Putin a large number of detailed questions.
Russian media said Mr Putin showed Mr Kim around the building where Russia’s new space launch rocket, the Angara, is assembled. The 42.7-metre booster launches payloads into low Earth orbit.
BALLISTIC MISSILES LAUNCHED IN KIM’S ABSENCE
Hours ahead of the summit, North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles from an area near the capital, Pyongyang, into the sea off its east coast, South Korea’s military and the Japanese government said.
It was the first such launch by the North while Mr 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 has 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.
Asked whether the leaders would discuss weapons, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the two countries cooperate in “sensitive” areas, which would not be made public.
On Tuesday, Mr Peskov said the two sides would conduct “negotiations”. Humanitarian aid to North Korea and UN Security Council resolutions imposed on Pyongyang may also be discussed, Russian officials have said.
Mr Kim arrived in Russia by private train on Tuesday with top defence industry and military aides and said his visit highlighted the “strategic importance” of the two countries’ ties, the North’s state news agency KCNA reported on Wednesday.
The make-up of Mr Kim’s delegation, with the notable presence of Munitions Industry Department Director Jo Chun Ryong, suggested an agenda heavy on defence industry cooperation, analysts said.
Mr Kim could offer artillery rounds from North Korea’s large stockpile, which could replenish Russia’s capabilities in the short term, but questions about the ammunition’s quality may limit the overall impact, military analysts said.
South Korea and the United States have warned such a deal would violate UN Security Council resolutions, which Russia as a permanent member of the council voted to approve.
North Korea is one of the few countries to have openly supported Russia over the Ukraine conflict, and Putin pledged last week to “expand bilateral ties in all respects in a planned way by pooling efforts”. REUTERS