Kim and Putin meet at Russian spaceport for possible arms talks

Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin met at a Russian spaceport on Wednesday in a rare encounter that has fueled Western concerns the North Korean leader will provide military support for the Russian president’s war in Ukraine.

Video posted on an official Kremlin account showed the two leaders smiling and shaking hands as Kim arrived at the Vostochny spaceport in Russia’s far eastern Amur region, a day after he arrived in the country from North Korea.

The two men met at the entrance to a launch vehicle assembly building, where Kim thanked Putin for inviting him to visit Russia “despite being busy,” according to the Russian state news agency Tass. After inspecting the spaceport, they were to set to hold talks between their delegations and possibly one on one.

Kim’s private train arrived in Khasan, a Russian station just across North Korea’s northeastern border, early on Tuesday local time, North Korean state media reported on Wednesday. There he was greeted on a red carpet by Natural Resources Minister Alexander Kozlov and regional Gov. Oleg Kozhemyako, as well as an honor guard and military band, North Korean state news agency KCNA said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shake hands during their meeting at the Vostochny spaceport outside the city of Tsiolkovsky, Russia, on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Vostochny spaceport in Russia on Wednesday.Vladimir Smirnov / Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Kim said his visit to Russia, which is his first since 2019 as well as his first trip outside North Korea after three years of pandemic isolation, showed that his government is “prioritizing the strategic importance” of North Korea-Russia relations.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov had said the two leaders would mainly discuss bilateral relations, including trade and economic ties and cultural exchanges.

Experts say Russia needs artillery shells as it tries to rebuff a Ukrainian counteroffensive, while North Korea is seeking energy and food aid, as well as Russian assistance in advancing its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

The White House has repeatedly warned North Korea against making any arms deal with Russia, which would violate multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Russia’s far east is sparsely populated and largely undeveloped, and the Vostochny spaceport, a pet project of Putin’s that he has visited multiple times, is one of the few places in the region that would be suitable for a high-profile meeting between the Russian and North Korean heads of state.

The extremely remote, high-security facility is a four- to six-hour drive from the closest population center, Blagoveshchensk, with little infrastructure along the way. 

The paved approaches are long and open from all directions, punctuated only by monuments to Russian space exploration and multiple layers of internal checkpoints. Inside, there are facilities designed to accommodate large foreign delegations.

Photos published by North Korean state media showed Kim was accompanied by Foreign Minister Choe Sun Hui and senior military officials Ri Pyong Chol and Pak Jong Chon, as well as Jo Chun Ryong, an official in charge of munitions.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who visited North Korea in July, will also join the Putin-Kim talks, the Kremlin said Tuesday. During Shoigu’s North Korea trip, the first by a Russian defense minister since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, he appeared with Kim at a massive military parade in Pyongyang that included intercontinental ballistic missiles believed to have the range to strike anywhere in the United States.

The Putin-Kim meeting came as North Korea continued its recent barrage of weapons tests, firing two short-range ballistic missiles toward the sea earlier Wednesday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

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