North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will soon visit Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin, the two countries confirmed on Monday, after U.S. officials said the pair would discuss possible arms deals.
“At the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Chairman of State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Jong-un, will pay an official visit to the Russian Federation in the coming days,” the Kremlin said.
North Korean state news agency KCNA said the two would “meet and have a talk,” without elaborating.
The North Korean leader appeared to have left aboard a special train bound for Russia, South Korean media reported on Monday, citing unnamed senior government sources, but neither Moscow nor Pyongyang immediately confirmed an exact schedule for the visit.
South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper said Kim left Pyongyang late on Sunday and would meet Putin as early as Tuesday.
Putin is expected to be in the far eastern city of Vladivostok on at least Monday to attend the Eastern Economic Forum, which runs through Wednesday.
Kim’s last trip abroad in 2019 was also to Vladivostok for his first summit with Putin after the collapse of North Korea’s nuclear disarmament talks with former U.S. president Donald Trump.
North Korea is one of the few countries to have openly supported Russia since the invasion of Ukraine last year, and Putin pledged last week to “expand bilateral ties in all respects in a planned way by pooling efforts.”
Condemnation from Washington
A summit between Kim and Putin would likely focus on military co-operation and possibly a deal to supply arms, U.S. and South Korean officials and analysts have said.
Jon Finer, U.S. President Joe Biden’s chief deputy national security adviser, told reporters on Sunday that buying weapons from North Korea “may be the best and may be the only option” open to Moscow as it tries to keep its war effort going.
“We have serious concerns about the prospect of North Korea potentially selling weapons, additional weapons, to the Russian military. It is interesting to reflect for a minute on what it says that when Russia goes around the world looking for partners that can help it, it lands on North Korea,” Finer said.
After a complicated, hot-and-cold relationship for decades, Russia and North Korea have been drawing closer to each other since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Speculation about the countries’ military co-operation grew after Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu made a rare visit to North Korea in July, when Kim invited him to an arms exhibition and a massive military parade in the capital where he showcased ICBMs designed to target the U.S. mainland. Following Shoigu’s visit, Kim toured North Korea’s weapons factories, including a facility producing artillery systems where he urged workers to speed up the development and large-scale production of new kinds of ammunition.
North Korea has repeatedly blamed the United States for the crisis in Ukraine, claiming the West’s “hegemonic policy” justified a Russian offensive in Ukraine to protect itself. It is the only nation aside of Russia and Syria to recognize the independence of two Russian-backed separatist regions in Eastern Ukraine — Donetsk and Luhansk — and it has also hinted at an interest in sending construction workers to those areas to help with rebuilding efforts.