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Putin set for rare visits to security partners North Korea and Vietnam

This pool image distributed by Sputnik agency shows Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shaking hands during their meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia's Amur region on Sept. 13, 2023. (Vladimir Smirnov/Pool/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to visit North Korea and Vietnam soon, taking rare trips to Moscow’s traditional security partners as he seeks help for his grinding war on Ukraine.

Vedomosti reported Monday on these two trips that it said would take place in the coming weeks, citing a diplomat it did not identify. The Russian newspaper did not give firm dates for the visits. It also cited Russia’s ambassador to North Korea Alexander Matsegora as saying the trip is now being “actively prepared.”

Putin’s trip to North Korea would be his first since July 2000. It is set to stoke concerns from the U.S. and its allies of arms transfers that have helped the Kremlin in its assault on Ukraine in exchange for aid propping up Kim Jong Un’s regime.

The timing of the visit could be crucial for Putin. With Kyiv now taking delivery of billions of dollars in fresh arms from its U.S. and European allies, the window for a Russian breakthrough is narrowing even as it continues to fire missiles and drones at Ukrainian cities including energy infrastructure.

Putin accepted an invitation to visit Pyongyang when Kim Jong Un went to Russia for a summit in September. The two met at Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome space center in the Amur region.

During their meeting in Russia, Putin pledged to help Kim with his goal of placing multiple spy satellites into orbit to keep an eye on U.S. troops in the region. He later gifted Kim a Russian-made luxury limousine in a show of bonhomie between the two leaders whose cooperation has vexed Washington and its global partners.

The U.S., South Korea and others have accused North Korea of sending massive amounts of artillery shells to Putin as well as Pyongyang’s newest family of short-range nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that are easy to hide and quick to deploy.

The value of the artillery alone is likely several billion dollars and the aid from Russia could represent the biggest boost to North Korea’s economy since Kim took power about a dozen years ago.

Moscow and Pyongyang have denied the arms transfers accusations despite a multitude of satellite photos released by research groups and the U.S. government showing the flow of weapons from North Korea to Russia and then to munitions dumps near the border with Ukraine.

The stakes will probably be lower for a Putin visit to Vietnam. He last went there in 2017, when the nation hosted the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in the coastal city of Danang.

Vietnam and Russia have ties going back decades to the Soviet Union. Moscow was a major supplier of military aid to Vietnam during its war with the U.S. The Southeast Asian nation has since relied on Russia for military weapons, including aircraft and Kilo-class, diesel-powered submarines.

Relations between the Vietnam and Russia have stayed robust, with Moscow also a key stakeholder in Vietnam’s energy sector. Vietsovpetro, a joint venture between Vietnam and Russia, runs one of the Southeast Asian country’s largest oil fields in Bach Ho, which has been in operation for about four decades.


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