Kim Jong Un vows closer North Korea-Russia ties after meeting Putin at space facility
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told Russian President Vladimir Putin that deepening ties is a "number one priority".
MOSCOW: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday (Sep 13) in Russia's Far East, state media said, for talks that Washington suspects will involve defence cooperation, while at home Kim's military fired two ballistic missiles.
"I am glad to see you," Putin said as he shook Kim's hand for about 40 seconds, welcoming him at Vostochny Cosmodrome, a modern space launch facility in the Amur region of Russia's Far East. "This is our new cosmodrome."
Kim, speaking through an interpreter, thanked Putin for the invitation and for the warmth of his reception.
The North Korean leader vowed closer ties with Moscow, saying his isolated country would "always be with Russia".
Russia has become 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 Western countries.
Putin said Moscow could help North Korea build satellites and hinted the two countries might also discuss military cooperation.
Kim told Putin that North Korea would make bilateral ties with Russia its "number one priority" and that Russia was facing down "hegemonist forces" seeking to undermine its security.
"We have always expressed full and unconditional support for all the measures taken by the Russian government, and I take this opportunity again to affirm that we will always be with Russia," Kim said, according to footage broadcast on Russian TV.
Their one-on-one talks, as well as discussions with delegations, lasted around two hours before the leaders proceeded to an official dinner in Kim's honour, Russian state-run news agencies said.
The summit between the leaders of the two countries, which have become increasingly isolated internationally, is being watched closely by Washington and allies, who suspect they could agree to trade arms and defence technology.
US and South Korean officials have expressed concern that Kim would discuss providing weapons and ammunition to Russia, which has expended vast stocks in more than 18 months of war in Ukraine. Moscow and Pyongyang have denied such intentions.
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.
"We'll talk about all the issues, without haste. There is time," Putin said, when asked by reporters whether military cooperation would be on the agenda.
The choice to meet at Vostochny Cosmodrome - a symbol of Russia's ambitions as a space power - was notable, as North Korea twice failed to launch reconnaissance satellites in the past four months.
In footage released by RIA news agency, Kim and Putin are seen shaking hands, grinning broadly, standing outside, surrounded by security personnel and Russian media representatives, before walking together into a gleaming glass-walled building.
Television footage showed Putin giving Kim a tour of the facility.
Hours ahead of the anticipated summit, North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles from an area near the capital, Pyongyang, into the sea off its east coast, South Korea's military and the Japanese government said.
It was the first such launch by the North while Kim was abroad, analysts said, who has travelled outside the country only seven times in his 12 years in power, all in 2018 and 2019. He also briefly stepped across the inter-Korean border twice.
"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.
Asked whether the leaders would discuss weapons, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the two countries cooperate in "sensitive" areas, which would not be made public, according to the Interfax news agency.
On Tuesday, Peskov said that Kim's visit would be a "fully fledged" one and that the two sides would conduct "negotiations". Humanitarian aid to North Korea and UN Security Council resolutions imposed on Pyongyang may also be discussed, Russian officials have said.
Russia's foreign ministry said the talks are important considering geopolitical changes in the world.
"Bilateral contacts are very important. And the situation on the Korean Peninsula is, of course, of utmost importance for security and stability in the region," state news agency RIA quoted ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying.
Kim arrived in Russia by private train on Tuesday with top defence industry and military aides and said his visit highlighted the "strategic importance" of the two countries' ties, the North's state news agency KCNA reported on Wednesday.
The make-up of Kim's delegation, with the notable presence of Munitions Industry Department Director Jo Chun Ryong, suggested an agenda heavy on defence industry cooperation, analysts said.
Kim could offer artillery rounds from North Korea's large stockpile, which could replenish Russia's capabilities in the short term, but questions about the ammunition's quality may limit the overall impact, military analysts said.
"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," said An Chan-il, a defector-turned-researcher who runs the World Institute for North Korea Studies.
South Korea and the United States have warned such a deal would violate UN Security Council resolutions, which Russia as a permanent member of the council voted to approve.
North Korea is one of the few countries to have openly supported Russia over the Ukraine conflict, and Putin pledged last week to "expand bilateral ties in all respects in a planned way by pooling efforts".
BUILDING ON THE ALLIANCE
Professor Justin Hastings, a visiting senior research fellow at the East Asian Institute of the National University of Singapore, said North Korea has always had two options for alliances: China and Russia.
"After the end of the Cold War, Russia basically dropped out of the equation just due to a complete lack of economic dynamism and China stepped up. But China has always been an uncomfortable fit for North Korea," he told CNA938 on Wednesday.
"From North Korea's perspective, anytime Russia comes and wants to establish a close relationship, North Korea is gonna feed on that because it gives an opportunity to basically have another way of getting around sanctions and another potential country that can support them in all of their endeavours."
For Russia, obtaining and using weapons from North Korea would come with various challenges.
"First, North Korea ammunition is not particularly accurate (and) pretty low quality. Second, Russia's main problem is not actually the ammunition, it's giving the ammunition to the front," said Prof Hastings, adding that it would be difficult to move ammunition from the far east of Russia to the battleground in Ukraine in a timely manner.
"That's much more of Russia's problem, not North Korea's problem," he said.
"That ultimately means in some sense, North Korea providing lots of ammunition to Russia will probably prolong the war somewhat, but it won't necessarily change it."