Kim Jong Un told President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday he was sure Russia would win a “great victory” over its enemies, as Ukraine’s Western allies warned of a possible Russian arms agreement with North Korea.
Russia became a pariah in the West after launching full-scale hostilities in Ukraine last year and has looked to strengthen alliances with other hardline leaders ostracised by democratic countries, AFP reports.
“We are confident that the Russian army and people will win a great victory in the just fight to punish evil groups who pursue hegemony, expansion, and ambition,” Kim told Putin, raising a toast during an official dinner following one-on-one talks.
Kim also praised the “heroic” Russian army in comments that news agencies sponsored by Moscow interpreted as relating specifically to Moscow’s large-scale military operation in Ukraine.
Putin meanwhile praised “the future strengthening of cooperation and friendship between our countries,” while hosting Kim at a Far East spaceport, and later told reporters he saw “possibilities” for military cooperation with North Korea.
He had earlier said Moscow could help Pyongyang build satellites and suggested the countries might also discuss military cooperation.
US officials and experts have said Russia is interested in buying North Korean ammunition to use in Ukraine.
Both leaders affirmed historical ties between Moscow and Pyongyang.
“We will always be with Russia,” Kim said, according to footage broadcast on Russian TV.
“An old friend is better than two new ones,” Putin said, quoting a Russian proverb and referencing the Soviet Union’s role in the Korean War.
Their talks as well as discussions with delegations lasted around two hours before the leaders proceeded to the officials dinner in Kim’s honour.
Kim will later oversee a display of the potential of Russia’s Pacific fleet in Vladivostok, Putin announced.
– Cosmodrome meeting –
The two leaders met at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East, with footage released by the Kremlin showing the pair shaking hands enthusiastically as Kim arrived.
The two then toured assembly and launch facilities for the Angara and Soyuz-2 space rocket launchers before sitting down for talks with their delegations.
While Kim was in Russia, Pyongyang fired two ballistic missiles on Wednesday, the South Korean military said, the latest in a string of sanctions-busting tests.
Experts say Russia will likely use the talks to seek artillery shells and antitank missiles from North Korea, which wants advanced satellite and nuclear-powered submarine technology in return.
Kim, who travelled overland to Russia in his bullet-proof train, was accompanied by an entourage that suggested the summit would have a strong military focus.
Among the top military officials accompanying Kim were Korean People’s Army Marshal Pak Jong Chon and Munitions Industry Department Director Jo Chun Ryong, according to the North’s state media.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu took part in the talks with Kim, as did Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, images on Russian state television showed.
Ahead of the announcement of the talks, Russian news agencies published images of Kim and Putin touring the vast space centre.
“The leader of the DPRK shows great interest in rocket technology, and they are trying to develop (their presence in) space,” Putin said, referring to North Korea by its official name.
Kim thanked Putin for inviting him to visit, despite the Russian leader’s “busy schedule”.
Kim had earlier stressed the trip — his first post-pandemic foreign travel — showed North Korea was “prioritising the strategic importance” of its Russia ties.
– Tactical gains –
The meeting at the cosmodrome is symbolic, especially as Pyongyang failed twice recently in its bid to put a military spy satellite into orbit, experts said.
Russia is eager for North Korea’s stockpile of artillery shells, while Pyongyang is looking for help with satellite technology and upgrading its Soviet-era military equipment, An Chan-il, a defector-turned-researcher who runs the World Institute for North Korea Studies, told AFP.
“If North Korea’s multiple rocket launchers and other artillery shells are provided to Russia in large quantities, it could have a significant impact on the war in Ukraine,” he said.
Russia’s natural resources minister Alexander Kozlov greeted Kim when he arrived in the country, giving him historic autographed photographs of Soviet cosmonauts, including Yuri Gagarin, Kozlov’s ministry told TASS.
The White House warned last week that North Korea would “pay a price” if it supplies Russia with weaponry for the conflict in Ukraine.
Kim is also risking the displeasure of his other major ally Beijing by meeting Putin, Vladimir Tikhonov, professor of Korean studies at the University of Oslo, told AFP.
“China will be hardly too happy about Russia entering into what Chinese consider their monopoly territory,” he said, adding Beijing would be worried about the regional destabilisation impact of any transfer of Russian military technology to Pyongyang.
Kim and Putin “may conduct an exchange of North Korea’s old-age, Soviet-type ammo for Russia’s newer military tech or hard currency (or wheat).”
But he warned that “Russia’s important ties to Seoul will be dealt irreparable damage.”