Kim Jong Un in Russia to cut suspected arms deal

Kim Jong Un in Russia to cut suspected arms deal
Kim Jong Un made his first trip outside North Korea in four years to meet with Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok, where the two are expected to do an arms-for-technology deal. / bne IntelliNews
By Ben Aris in Berlin September 12, 2023

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived in Russia aboard his private train on September 12, making a controversial visit, as he is expected to talk about arms deals with his counterpart, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Met at the station by a military band, Kim is making a rare trip out of North Korea and his first since the global pandemic. He arrives in Russia at a fraught time, when Russia is bogged down in the defence of its lines against the Ukrainian counter-offensive.

While Russia has far more munitions than Ukraine, the Kremlin is still keen to secure supplies in what is anticipated to be a long war and the militarised North Korea is home to one of the largest stockpiles in the world – much of it compatible with Russia’s military – which it has been building up since its last conflict in 1953, when the Korean Armistice was signed.

A nervous Washington has issued strident warnings against any potential arms trade between the two countries, warnings that will almost certainly fall on deaf ears.

Like his father Kim Jong-Il, Kim junior is allergic to vulnerable planes, so set out from Pyongyang to Russia two days earlier. He disembarked from his signature olive green train, that contains a karaoke hall, in the Russian Far East where Russia is currently holding the Eastern Economic forum in Vladivostok. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “such contacts are not planned directly at the forum.” This marks Kim's second summit with Putin, following their meeting in April 2019, also in Vladivostok.

A welcoming delegation was there to receive him. This visit marks Kim's eighth trip abroad during his 12 years in power, with four of his previous trips having been to China.

The Kremlin has confirmed that there will be negotiations between two delegations, followed by one-on-one communication between the leaders, if needed. Discussions could encompass humanitarian aid to North Korea and UN Security Council resolutions pertaining to Pyongyang. The UN is holding a general assembly next week, on September 21.

However, US officials have indicated that arms talks between Russia and North Korea are advancing actively.

The summit's exact location remains secret, but Kim's train passed through the junction for Russia's port of Vladivostok, where Putin was attending the summit that has attracted many other Asian leaders.

The Kremlin said on September 9 that the top foreign guest at an economic forum in Vladivostok would be the vice president of Laos, and that it had "nothing to say" about a possible visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Both Pyongyang and Moscow have denied the possibility of North Korea supplying arms to Russia, but the latter asserts that its national interests will guide its policies.

In a tell-tale sign, much of the 20-strong delegation accompanying Kim is made up of military top brass, including top defence industry and military officials, strongly suggesting defence industry co-operation will be high on the agenda. For its part, North Korea is expected to ask for new technologies for satellites and nuclear submarines, as well as food for the DPRK in exchange, The Bell reports.

Peskov only said that the negotiations would take place with the participation of delegations, and, if necessary, one on one. According to him, “bilateral relations” will be discussed.

Of particular interest to Russia is North Korea’s stock of the crucial artillery rounds that have been the main workhorse ammunition in the Ukraine conflict, and anti-tank rockets.

US officials have been saying since last year that North Korea has been supplying Russia with artillery shells and missiles, but not in very large quantities, the NYT reported earlier this year.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol's office has expressed concern over the summit, given North Korea's UN sanctions and Russia's status as a permanent member of the Security Council. Washington has urged North Korea to adhere to its commitment not to sell arms to Russia for use in the Ukraine conflict, which would violate Security Council resolutions.

North Korea has openly supported Russia over the Ukraine conflict and voted against all five resolutions in the UN to condemn Russia’s military action in Ukraine.

Putin pledged to expand bilateral ties with North Korea. In July, Kim personally toured an arms exhibition for Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu during his visit to Pyongyang, signalling a significant interest in defence co-operation.

Both Russia and China had previously voted in favour of Security Council resolutions targeting North Korea for its ballistic missile launches and nuclear tests as recently as 2017.