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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un travels by train to Russia for Putin talks

North Korea mocks US envoy's Asia trip
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North Korea’s Kim Jong Un headed for Russia Tuesday on his armoured train, for likely arms talks with President Vladimir Putin in his first trip abroad in four years.

Wearing a black suit and flanked by his top military officials in uniform, state media images showed an unsmiling Kim waving from the doorway of his private train with green-and-gold livery.

Meanwhile senior officials and Pyongyang residents gave him “a warm send-off”, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Experts say Putin is seeking artillery shells and antitank missiles from North Korea for Moscow’s war in Ukraine, while Kim is reportedly in search of advanced technology for satellites and nuclear-powered submarines, as well as food aid for his impoverished nation.

Kim “left here by his train on Sunday afternoon to visit the Russian Federation,” KCNA said.

State media images showed Kim walking to his train on a red carpet with honour guard through the station.

Kim was accompanied by top North Korean military officials, including his defence chief, foreign minister and officials in charge of weapons production and space technology, state media said.

KCNA did not report on the location of Kim’s train Tuesday, including whether it had crossed the Russian border.

It would take at least 20 hours for Kim to reach Vladivostok from Pyongyang on a 1,200 kilometre (745 miles) journey, assuming that Kim’s special train — which is likely very heavy due to its armour — travels at around 60 kilometres per hour, South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo said.

On Monday KCNA had reported that “the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un will meet and have a talk with Comrade Putin during the visit.”

The Kremlin also confirmed that Kim would visit Russia.

Washington swiftly derided the upcoming summit as a sign that Putin was “begging” for help with his floundering invasion of Ukraine.

The confirmation from North Korea ends days of speculation after US and other officials said recently that Kim, who rarely leaves North Korea, was likely to head to Vladivostok for arms talks with Putin.

Kim has not travelled outside the North since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. His last proper overseas trip was in 2019, also to Russia to meet Putin.

South Korean broadcaster YTN said Seoul “expects that Chairman Kim will hold a meeting with President Putin of Russia around the day after tomorrow”, meaning Wednesday.

It is possible the pair will meet on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, the Far East city closest to the North Korea-Russia border. The forum runs until Wednesday.

Moscow, a historical ally of Pyongyang, was a crucial backer of the isolated country for decades and their ties go back to the founding of North Korea 75 years ago.

Kim has been steadfast in his support for Moscow’s Ukraine invasion, including, Washington says, supplying rockets and missiles.

In July, Putin hailed Pyongyang’s “firm support for special military operations against Ukraine”.


– ‘Pay a price’ –


The White House recently warned that Pyongyang would “pay a price” if it supplies Moscow with weaponry for its war in Ukraine.

On Monday the United States described Putin as desperate in seeking a meeting with Kim.

“Having to travel across the length of his own country to meet with an international pariah to ask for assistance in a war that he expected to win in the opening month, I would characterise it as him begging for assistance,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.

Washington has said Russia could use weapons from North Korea to attack Ukrainian food supplies and heating infrastructure heading into winter to “try to conquer territory that belongs to another sovereign nation”.

Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul, told AFP that a Putin-Kim summit was part of Moscow’s “gentle diplomatic blackmail” of Seoul because Russia did not want South Korea to supply weapons to Kyiv.

Seoul is a major arms exporter and has sold tanks to Kyiv’s ally Poland, but longstanding domestic policy bars it from selling weapons into active conflicts.

“The major worry of the Russian government now is a possible shipment of the South Korean ammunition to Ukraine, not just one shipment but a lot of shipments,” Lankov said.

About the author


Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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