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Kim tells Putin that Russia has North Korea’s ‘full and unconditional support’

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin, April 25, 2019. (Kremlin/Released)
September 18, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks on September 13 with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who offered his country’s “full and unconditional support” to defend what he said was Russia’s security interests, in an apparent reference to Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Kim also called North Korea’s relations with Russia “the first priority,” after talks at a remote Siberian rocket-launch facility.

Washington has expressed concern that Putin would use the meeting to press Kim on weapons shipments to resupply dwindling Russian stockpiles. The two leaders are aligning in the face of their countries’ separate, intensifying confrontations with the West.

Following the meeting, the U.S. State Department said it was “quite troubling” that Moscow was considering cooperation with Pyongyang on programs that would potentially violate UN resolutions.

“When you see what looks to be increased cooperation and probably military transfers, that is quite troubling and would potentially be in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions,” spokesman Matthew Miller said.

The Putin-Kim gathering came hours after North Korea fired two ballistic missiles toward the sea, South Korean officials reported.

Following the meeting, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the two nations’ foreign ministers will meet next month in North Korea, but he added there were no immediate plans for Putin to visit the country himself.

Putin told Russian television that the North Korean leader would travel to two more Far Eastern cities following their meeting, first by plane to Komsomolsk-on-Amur and then to Vladivostok to observe Russia’s Pacific Fleet and other sites.

Putin and Kim began their meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome after a tour of the complex, including two launch pads, Russian state media reported.

North Korea may have tens of millions of aging artillery shells and rockets based on Soviet designs that could give a huge boost to the Russian Army in Ukraine, analysts say.

Asked whether Russia will help North Korea build satellites, Putin was quoted by Russian state media as saying, “that’s why we have come here.” Asked about military cooperation, Putin said: “we will talk about all issues without a rush. There is time.”

Official photos showed that Kim was accompanied by Pak Thae Song, chairman of North Korea’s space science and technology committee, and navy Admiral Kim Myong Sik. Both are reported to be linked to North Korean efforts to acquire spy satellites and nuclear-capable ballistic-missile submarines, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry.

Also part of the North Korean delegation appears to be Jo Chun Ryong, a ruling party official in charge of munitions policies who joined him on recent tours of factories producing artillery shells and missiles, according to South Korea.

Kim had been expected to seek economic aid as well as military technology. Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko said Russia may discuss humanitarian aid with the North Korean delegation, according to Russian news agencies.

An arms deal would violate international sanctions that Russia supported in the past.

“No UN member state should violate Security Council sanctions against North Korea by engaging in an illegal trade of arms, and must certainly not engage in military cooperation with North Korea that undermines the peace and stability of the international community,” South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Lim Soo-suk said.

The United States has accused North Korea of providing Russia with arms, including selling artillery shells to the Russian mercenary group Wagner. Both Russian and North Korean officials denied such claims.

“We urge the [North Korea] to abide by the public commitments that Pyongyang has made to not provide or sell arms to Russia,” White House National Security Council spokesman Adrienne Watson said in a statement earlier.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after the Putin-Kim talks that Russia and China will cancel sanctions against North Korea imposed on it to curb its nuclear program, stating that the measures against Pyongyang had been approved by Russia and China in “an absolutely different geopolitical situation.”

International sanctions against North Korea over Pyongyang’s nuclear program were imposed after its first nuclear test in 2006. Beijing has yet to comment on Lavrov’s statement.