Vladimir Putin and Kim Jung Un gifted each other rifles when they met in Far Eastern Russia, the Kremlin said on Thursday, confirming the isolated Russian leader will visit North Korea as Moscow woos another pariah state.
The Russian president, who has sought to strengthen alliances with other hardline leaders ostracised by the West, met with Kim on Wednesday amid speculation they would agree on an arms deal.
Russia is eager for ammunition to continue fighting in Ukraine, while North Korea wants Moscow’s help to develop its missile programme.
Putin “gave (Kim) a rifle from our production of the highest quality. In return, he also received a North Korean-made rifle,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Putin also gifted the North Korean leader a “glove from a space suit that has been to space several times.”
Kim, who seldom leaves his country, held talks with Putin at the Vostochny cosmodrome. The Kremlin said his visit to Russia’s Far East would last “a few more days.”
Moscow also confirmed that Putin “gratefully accepted Kim’s invitation” to visit Pyongyang, which North Korean state television earlier announced.
Peskov said Moscow will first “quickly prepare” to send Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Pyongyang, with his trip expected in October, before a Putin visit can be arranged.
It would be Putin’s second trip to the world’s most reclusive state, with which Russia shares a short border.
He visited Pyongyang in July 2000 to meet Kim’s father Kim Jong-il, just months after being elected to the presidency.
More than two decades later, Russia is facing unprecedented isolation from the West over Moscow’s Ukraine offensive, with Putin seeking to boost Soviet-era alliances.
– ‘We are watching’ –
In Pyongyang, North Korea’s Central News Agency praised Kim’s summit with Putin, saying the pair held “historic” talks.
Kim’s visit to Russia is his first foreign trip since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out.
Both countries are under a raft of sanctions, and Kim’s visit has sparked widespread concern over illicit arms agreements.
After the summit, Putin told reporters that he saw “possibilities” for military cooperation.
The White House said Thursday US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had spoken with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts to discuss the Putin-Kim meeting.
“They noted that any arms exports from the DPRK to Russia would directly violate multiple UN Security Council resolutions, including resolutions that Russia itself voted to adopt,” a White House statement said, using an acronym for North Korea’s official name.
After waving goodbye to Kim at the Vostochny cosmodrome, Putin told Russian television that Kim would oversee a display of Russian warships in the far eastern city of Vladivostok to “demonstrate the capabilities of the Pacific Fleet.”
He also said Kim will visit a university in Vladivostok. Colleges in Russia’s Far East have historically accepted North Korean students.
Kim crossed into Russia in his bulletproof train.
– ‘Blood alliance’ –
Both leaders vowed on Wednesday to strengthen their relationship, heavily referencing the two countries’ 20th century ties.
“We will always be with Russia,” Kim said.
“An old friend is better than two new ones,” Putin said, quoting a Russian proverb and referencing the Soviet Union’s role in the Korean War.
Western countries warned Moscow and Pyongyang against striking an arms deal as the conflict in Ukraine grinds on.
“I think Russia has already tested the North Korean shells in battlefields and is now ready to expand its use going forward,” said Kim Jong-dae, a former South Korean MP and visiting scholar at the Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies.
He said the summit “signals a seismic change in Northeast Asian geopolitics”, adding that a stronger alliance between North Korea, Russia and China could become a “destabilising force in the region”.
Kim was accompanied by a military-heavy entourage, with top Russian military officials also involved in the talks.
“North Korea-Russia relations can be said to have completely returned to the level of blood alliance during the Cold War,” Cheong Seong-chang, researcher at the Sejong Institute, told AFP.
He said that while there have been summits between the two countries before, “there has never been a time when North Korea brought in almost all of its key military officials like the one happening right now.”