N. Korea’s Kim pledges support for Putin at Russia’s spaceport summit

September 13, 2023

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Wednesday pledged to throw his full support behind Russian President Vladimir Putin as the two isolated leaders held a rare summit at Russia’s rocket launch facility, as concerns grow over a possible arms deal between Pyongyang and Moscow.

Proposing a toast at an official dinner after the summit, Kim told Putin that the Russian army and people will triumph over “evil” forces, in apparent endorsement of its war in Ukraine.

Kim said he was confident that Russia will win a great victory in the “sacred” struggle to punish the “evil” with hegemonic pretensions. The summit came amid concerns that the two countries may advance arms negotiations and bolster military cooperation.

Kim, via a translator, added that he is deeply convinced that the Russian army and people will demonstrate their priceless virtues of honor in the apparent “special military operation” in Ukraine and building a strong state.

Following the summit talks held at the Vostochny space center in Russia’s Amur region, Putin told a local news channel that he sees prospects for military and technical cooperation with the North.

Putin also announced that Kim will travel to Komsomolsk-on-Amur and Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East after the summit.

With the participation of delegations, Kim and Putin began talks at the Vostochny Cosmodrome space center after they shook hands and greeted each other for their first meeting in more than four years, according to Russian news media.

Kim told Putin that “Russia is waging a sacred fight against the West,” adding that North Korea will work together with Russia to “fight against imperialism.”

In an apparent reference to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Kim said that he is supportive of “all decisions” made by Putin.

“(North Korea’s) relations with Russia are the top priority of Pyongyang,” Kim told Putin at the start of the talks, adding the invitation came at a very important time.

Putin said he hopes to talk about economic cooperation, security situations on the Korean Peninsula and humanitarian issues, according to Russian news agencies.

In the run-up to the talks, Putin gave Kim a tour of the Vostochny Cosmodrome.

Russian news agencies said Kim and Putin had no plan to sign official documents after they concluded a one-on-one meeting, which was followed by talks in an extended format. The two leaders were also offered an official dinner, according to Russian news agencies.

The Kremlin earlier said Putin and Kim would touch on bilateral ties and economic cooperation during the summit, but added their talks may involve sensitive issues that would not be made available publicly.

Speculations have risen that military cooperation would likely be discussed, as Russia apparently needs North Korea’s supplies of artillery shells and ammunition for its war with Ukraine, while the North wants high-tech weapons technology from Russia.

Putin said “all issues” will be discussed during their talks, when asked by reporters if he plans to touch on military and technical cooperation.

The Russian president also noted Kim has shown “great interest” in rocket technology, pledging to help the recalcitrant regime build its own satellite. North Korea made attempts in May and August to place a military spy satellite into an orbit, but they ended in failure.

After departing from Pyongyang by armored train Sunday, the North Korean leader arrived at the rocket launch facility earlier in the day, traveling more than 1,000 kilometers north of the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok, where they previously met in 2019.

Photos carried by the North’s state media showed that Kim was accompanied by the North’s top party and military officials, including military marshals Ri Pyong-chol and Pak Jong-chon, and Pak Thae-song, an official in charge of space technology.

The makeup of his entourage and the selection of Russia’s space facility as the venue for talks spawn speculation that North Korea may agree to supply Russia with ammunition and weaponry for its war in Ukraine. In return, North Korea may want food aid and a weapons technology transfer from Moscow, such as those involving spy satellites and nuclear-powered submarines.

If Kim and Putin also agree to strengthen their military cooperation, including a three-way naval drill with China, it would pose a major security challenge on the Korean Peninsula and beyond.

Any arms deal between Pyongyang and Moscow constitutes a violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions that prohibit any arms trade with North Korea.

Their meeting comes as Pyongyang has recently been seeking to bolster military ties with Moscow and doubling down on its weapons development in the wake of growing security cooperation among South Korea, the United States and Japan.

Kim earlier said his trip to Russia for a meeting with Putin is a “clear manifestation” of North Korea prioritizing the “strategic importance” of their bilateral ties, according to the North’s Korean Central News Agency.

In an apparent show of force, the North fired two short-range ballistic missiles toward the East Sea shortly before Kim and Putin’s meeting Wednesday, South Korea’s military said.

North Korea pledged to launch a third spy satellite in October after its previous two thwarted attempts and recently unveiled what it claimed to be a tactical nuclear-attack submarine.