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Seoul: Weapons deals are expected to be top of the agenda as North Korean leader Jong-un is set to arrive in Russia for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, while Moscow looks to replenish its depleted stockpiles in its war against Ukraine.
Kim was invited by Putin to arrive in the coming days, according to Russia’s Tass news agency and North Korea’s state media. South Korean media reported on Monday that Kim had departed for the Russian port city of Vladivostok, citing unnamed officials.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un in Vladivostok in 2019. They will meet again this week.Credit: AP
The meeting is likely to fuel concerns in Washington and like-minded capitals about increased military cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang at a critical juncture in Russia’s war in Ukraine. US and South Korean officials also have warned that North Korea may seek critical technologies from Russia to boost Pyongyang’s nuclear and weapons ambitions.
The two leaders are increasingly finding their perceived interests aligning in their efforts to reduce US influence in the region.
Kim is likely to ask for food aid and weapons technology in return for supplying Russia with Soviet-designed munitions, according to US and South Korean officials and security experts. Pyongyang is also likely to be interested in increasing the number of North Korean labourers working in Russia to generate much-needed foreign currency, despite UN bans.
A weapons deal for Russia is likely to be high on the agenda during the meeting between the two leaders.Credit: AP
White House officials have urged North Korea in recent weeks to cease its arms negotiations with Moscow and to stick to public commitments it has made to not provide or sell arms to Russia.
Making his first known international trip since imposing a strict border shutdown in early 2020, Kim left Pyongyang on Monday on his famously slow-moving armoured train, according to South Korean media reports.
Although the two cities are only 683 kilometres apart as the crow flies, the journey is expected to take Kim about 20 hours.
The annual Eastern Economic Forum is being held this week, with Putin expected to attend on September 12, the Russian government said. South Korean analysts have pointed to this as the most likely date for the two men to meet.
Kim’s visit would be a sign that the two countries have reached an agreement to expand the weapons trade between Moscow and Pyongyang, said Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected political analyst.
Washington and its Western allies are rallying behind Ukraine in the war through weapons and financial support and with sanctions on Moscow. Meanwhile, President Biden is strengthening ties with Tokyo and Seoul in the face of North Korean threats. And Washington is not willing to give the sanctions relief that Kim seeks.
Russia is seeking a steady supply of munitions to help stave off Ukraine’s counteroffensive, forcing it, in isolation over the invasion, to turn to pariah states such as North Korea and Iran for cheap and compatible sources of weaponry.
Moscow is on track to fire more than 7 million rounds of artillery this year in a gruelling battle of attrition to hold onto the territorial gains it made last year.
Putin’s decision to meet Kim may also be a response to South Korea’s support for Ukraine by backfilling US munitions supply and potentially shipping weapons directly to Kyiv, said Andrei Lankov, Russia-North Korea relations expert at Kookmin University in Seoul.
Seoul has been wary of Moscow’s response in its public acknowledgements of its weapons support for Ukraine.
“The primary motive behind this ostentatious signalling appears to be Russia’s concern about the possible shipment of South Korean weapons,” Lankov said. “By indirectly threatening to bolster cooperation with North Korea, Moscow signals that Seoul may face consequences if its support of Ukraine goes too far.”
Since Russia’s invasion, Pyongyang has become a vocal supporter of Moscow, joining the select club of just five countries that declined to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and it also has expressed support for Russia’s illegal annexation of parts of Ukraine.
Russia has tacitly supported North Korea’s nuclear and weapons advancement since the 2019 collapse of US-North Korea diplomatic talks. Along with China, Russia has hampered UN Security Council efforts to sanction Pyongyang for violating the council’s resolutions banning ballistic weapons testing.
At the end of World War II, the then-Soviet Union helped usher in a communist regime in the northern half of the Korean Peninsula.
Since the end of the Cold War, North Korea has balanced its relationship with Russia and China as the ruling Kim regime has sought to decrease both countries’ influence over Pyongyang and to be self-sufficient.
Now, the two leaders are looking to signal that they want to work together, though it remains unclear whether either country would gain long-term and tangible gains from such a summit.
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