SEOUL/MOSCOW (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will visit Russia soon to meet President Vladimir Putin in a potentially historic summit, the two countries confirmed on Monday, amid Moscow’s increasing isolation over the war in Ukraine.
The Kremlin said that Kim will visit Russia in the coming days at the invitation of Putin, while the North’s Korean Central News Agency said that the two leaders “will meet and talk” without going into details.
US officials said the two leaders would discuss potential arms deals to help Russia in its war in Ukraine and provide North Korea with a much-needed economic and political lifeline.
Washington and its allies express concern about recent indications of closer military cooperation between Russia and nuclear-armed North Korea. This will be Kim’s second summit with Putin, after they met in 2019.
Despite denials from Pyongyang and Moscow, the United States said talks were actively progressing for North Korea to supply weapons to Russia, which has consumed large stockpiles of weapons during more than 18 months of war in Ukraine.
South Korean media reported on Monday, citing unnamed high-level government sources, that the North Korean leader appeared to have left on a special train bound for Russia, but neither Moscow nor Pyongyang immediately confirmed the exact timetable for the visit.
North Korea is one of the few countries that has openly supported Russia since its invasion of Ukraine last year, and Putin last week pledged to “expand bilateral relations in all respects in a planned way by pooling efforts.”
Kim’s last trip abroad in 2019 was also to Vladivostok to hold his first summit with Putin after the collapse of North Korea’s denuclearization talks with former US President Donald Trump.
South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo said Kim left Pyongyang late Sunday and will meet with Putin on Tuesday.
YTN reported that the special train will transport Kim to North Korea’s northeastern border with Russia, and the summit will likely be held on Tuesday or Wednesday. Both reports quoted unnamed high-level sources in the South Korean government.
Confidentiality and security
Japanese media reported that security measures have been tightened, and renovation work is underway at the main train station in the Russian border city of Khasan, where Kim is expected to enter Russia.
Kim does not travel abroad often, and when he does, it is often shrouded in secrecy and security. He travels by a special train with its distinctive olive-green carriages, which are said to be armored and equipped with communications systems and a personal suite for Kim to work and consult with his aides.
The South Korean Foreign Ministry said it was monitoring developments but declined to confirm any details. Officials at South Korea’s Unification Ministry said they had no information to provide, while officials at the National Intelligence Service could not be reached.
US and South Korean officials and analysts said the summit between Kim and Putin would likely focus on military cooperation and possibly reaching an arms supply agreement.
The United States said that North Korea supplying weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine would be a “huge mistake” and warned that Pyongyang “will pay the price.”
Ramon Pacheco Pardo, head of Korea at the Brussels School of Governance, said the deepening relationship between Kim and Putin indicates further global division over the war.
He added, “Supporting North Korea will allow Putin to wage his war for a longer period, which is bad for Europe.” He added: “It is further evidence that many countries in the world do not support Ukraine in the way that the United States and Europe do, and some countries such as North Korea will openly support Russia without fear of any real consequences.”
In Vladivostok, there was a larger than usual police presence on the streets but no North Korean flags were raised, unlike before Kim’s previous trip when the city was decorated with red five-pointed stars adorning the North’s flag.
(Reporting by Soo Hyang Choi, Jo Min Park, Josh Smith and Jack Kim in Seoul and Jay Falconbridge and Reuters staff in Vladivostok; Reporting by Muhammad) Editing by Himani Sarkar, Simon Cameron-Moore and Nick Macfie
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