North Korean leader Kim Jong Un returns to North Korea after Russian trip, concluding a six-day visit to Russia that raised global concerns regarding potential weapons transfer agreements between the two nations, both of which are engaged in separate disputes with Western countries.
Kim's departure took place amid a farewell ceremony at a railway station in Artyom, a city located approximately 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the North Korean border in far eastern Russia. The event featured a performance of the Russian patriotic march song "Farewell of Slavianka" as Kim's armored train prepared to depart, as reported by Russia's state news agency, RIA.
High-ranking officials in attendance included Russia's Minister of Natural Resources, Alexander Kozlov, and the Governor of the Primorye region, Oleg Kozhemyako. The ceremony included a rendition of both the North Korean and Russian national anthems, performed by a Russian military band.
This marked Kim's lengthiest foreign journey since assuming power in late 2011. Observers anticipated Kim's return to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, on Monday afternoon.
Starting with his arrival in Russia the previous Tuesday, this trip represented Kim's first overseas visit in over four years. During his stay, he held talks with President Vladimir Putin and toured critical military and technological facilities, highlighting the deepening defense partnership between the two nations amidst their separate and escalating confrontations with the United States and its allies.
Vladimir Putin pointing upwards in a gesture to show Kim Jong Un something
Foreign officials and experts have speculated that North Korea might supply much-needed munitions to support Moscow's engagement in the conflict in Ukraine, in exchange for advanced Russian weapons technology that could advance Kim's nuclear ambitions.
Analysts suggest that North Korea may possess tens of millions of aging artillery shells and rockets based on Soviet designs, which could potentially enhance Russian forces in Ukraine, even though these older artillery systems are known for their poor accuracy. Reports indicate that both sides have been firing thousands of artillery rounds daily.
It's important to note that United Nations Security Council resolutions, previously endorsed by Russia as a permanent member, prohibit North Korea from engaging in arms exports or imports. Observers interpret Russia's alleged efforts to acquire ammunition and artillery shells from North Korea as a sign of Moscow's desperation to replenish its depleted arsenal in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Military cooperation between North Korea and Russia is illegal and unjust as it contravenes U.N. Security Council resolutions and various other international sanctions. The international community will unite more tightly in response to such a move.- South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol
In exchange for providing conventional arms to Russia, experts suggest that North Korea would likely request Russian economic and food assistance. Additionally, North Korea may seek technology transfers to develop advanced weaponry, including powerful missiles, a nuclear-powered submarine, and a spy satellite. North Korea has publicly expressed the need for such high-tech weapon systems, citing what it perceives as escalating hostilities led by the United States.
On a lighter note earlier that Sunday, Kim engaged in leisure activities, which included visiting a university and attending a captivating walrus show at a Russian aquarium. Russia's state media released videos capturing Kim's interactions with his top officials as they conversed with Russian counterparts through translators on the campus of the Far Eastern Federal University located on Russky Island.
At the Primorsky Aquarium on the island, which happens to be Russia's largest, Kim enjoyed performances featuring beluga whales, bottlenose dolphins, fur seals, and a particularly beloved walrus named "Misha," as reported by Russian media.
Kozhemyako, the Governor of Primorye, has revealed plans for a delegation from Russia's Far East to visit North Korea. As reported by Russian state media, Kozhemyako announced that he will be part of this delegation, which will include specialists from various sectors such as trade, tourism, and agriculture. The specific timing for this visit to North Korea has not been officially announced yet.
On the preceding Saturday, Kim journeyed to an airport near Vladivostok, where he was given an up-close look at Russia's strategic bombers and other military aircraft by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and other senior military officials. Later in the day, Kim and Shoigu traveled to Vladivostok, where they conducted an inspection of the Admiral Shaposhnikov frigate.
On Friday, Kim paid a visit to an aircraft manufacturing plant located in the city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, known for producing Russia's most formidable fighter jets.
Kim Jong Un shaking hands with Russain Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology Alexander Kozlov
The Russian military aircraft showcased to Kim on Saturday included types that have been deployed in Ukraine, including the Tu-160, Tu-95, and Tu-22 bombers, which have been regularly utilized for launching cruise missiles. During Kim's visit, Defense Minister Shoigu and Lt. Gen. Sergei Kobylash, the commander of Russia's long-range bomber force, confirmed for the first time that the Tu-160 had recently been equipped with new cruise missiles boasting a range exceeding 6,500 kilometers (over 4,040 miles).
Shoigu, who had previously met with Kim during an uncommon visit to North Korea in July, also presented Kim with one of Russia's latest missiles, the hypersonic Kinzhal, which is carried by the MiG-31 fighter jet and was first employed in combat during the Ukrainian conflict.
According to North Korea's state media, Kim and Shoigu engaged in discussions concerning the regional security environment and exchanged views on "practical issues arising in further strengthening the strategic and tactical coordination, cooperation and mutual exchange between the armed forces of the two countries."
Kim's summit with Putin occurred at Russia's primary space launch facility, which indicated his desire for Russian assistance in acquiring space-based reconnaissance capabilities and missile technology. In recent months, North Korea has experienced two failed attempts to launch a spy satellite into space, and they announced plans for a third attempt in October.
During the meeting with Putin, Kim expressed his country's commitment to providing "full and unconditional support" to Russia in its efforts to safeguard its security interests, likely referencing the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Kim extended an invitation to Putin to visit North Korea at a time convenient for him, an invitation which Putin accepted.
This marked Kim's second summit meeting with Putin, with the previous one taking place in Vladivostok in April 2019. This meeting occurred just two months after Kim's high-stakes nuclear diplomacy with then U.S. President Donald Trump collapsed during their second summit in Vietnam.