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North Korea leader Kim Jong Un arrives in Russia before expected Putin meeting

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shake hands during their meeting in Vladivostok, Russia, Thursday, April 25, 2019.
FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shake hands during their meeting in Vladivostok, Russia, Thursday, April 25, 2019. Copyright Alexander Zemlianichenko/Copyright 2019 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Alexander Zemlianichenko/Copyright 2019 The AP. All rights reserved
By Euronews with AP
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The North Korean leader arrived in Russia on Tuesday morning after travelling on his bulletproof train with an unspecified number of top officials.

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Continuing his family's tradition of travelling by rail, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un reportedly arrived in Russia on Tuesday aboard his personal bulletproof train, ahead of an expected meeting with Vladimir Putin.

According to North Korea's state news agency, Kim departed on Sunday afternoon accompanied by an unknown number of military top brass and government figures.  

His delegation likely includes foreign minister Choe Sun Hui and top two military officials – Korean People's Army Marshals Ri Pyong Chol and Pak Jong Chon.

It's not yet clear when Kim and the Russian president will have their much-awaited meeting.

On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed only that Kim entered Russia without offering any further detail, while Russia's state news agency RIA-Novosti reported the North Korean leader's train was headed north after crossing the Razdolnaya River.

The Kremlin says the pair will meet in the coming days.

Their meeting will seek to tighten bonds between the two countries, which both find themselves increasingly isolated on the world stage. 

Kim is believed to want humanitarian aid from Moscow to tackle crippling food shortages inside the country, as well as Russian technology that would allow him to go ahead with plans to build sophisticated weapons, such as nuclear-powered submarines and spy satellites.

In return, Russia is likely to obtain millions of artillery shells and rockets from Pyongyang which it needs to wage war in Ukraine.

朝鮮通信社/KCNA via KNS
This Sept. 10, 2023 photo provided by the North Korean government shows that North Korea leader Kim Jong Un waves from train in Pyongyang as he leaves for Russia朝鮮通信社/KCNA via KNS

What do we know about the meeting?

A possible venue where Kim and Putin could meet is the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok. The Russian president arrived here on Monday to attend an international forum that runs through to Wednesday, according to Russia's TASS news agency. 

Putin's first meeting with Kim was held in 2019 in the city, some 680 km north of Pyongyang. 

This is Kim's first foreign trip since the COVID-19 pandemic, during which North Korea tightly enforced border controls for more than three years. The pandemic is considered to have increased the severity of food shortages in the country.

AP journalists near the North Korea-Russia frontier saw a green train with yellow trim similar to one Kim used during previous foreign trips at a station on the North Korean side of a border river on Monday.

US officials released intelligence last week that North Korea and Russia were arranging a meeting between their leaders.

What is likely to be discussed?

According to US officials, Putin could focus on securing more supplies of North Korean artillery and other ammunition to refill declining reserves as he seeks to defuse a Ukrainian counteroffensive and show that he's capable of grinding out a long war of attrition. 

That could potentially put more pressure on the US and its partners to pursue negotiations as concerns over a protracted conflict grow despite their huge shipments of advanced weaponry to Ukraine in the past 17 months.

朝鮮通信社/KCNA via KNS
FILE - In this photo provided by the North Korean government, Kim Jong Un and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu visit an arms exhibition in Pyongyang, July 26, 2023朝鮮通信社/KCNA via KNS

"Arms discussions between Russia and the DPRK are expected to continue during Kim Jong Un’s trip to Russia," said White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson, using the abbreviation for North Korea’s official name of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. 

"We urge the DPRK to abide by the public commitments that Pyongyang has made to not provide or sell arms to Russia."

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State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Washington will monitor the meeting closely, reminding both countries that "any transfer of arms from North Korea to Russia would be a violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions," and that the US "will not hesitate to impose new sanctions."

In exchange, Kim could seek badly needed energy and food aid and advanced weapons technologies, including those related to intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarines and military reconnaissance satellites, analysts say.

There are concerns that potential Russian technology transfers would increase the threat posed by Kim’s growing arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles that are designed to target the US, South Korea, and Japan.

Pyongyang-Moscow rapprochement

After decades of a complicated, hot-and-cold relationship, Russia and North Korea have been drawing closer since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in 2022. 

The bond has been driven by Putin's need for war help and Kim's efforts to boost the visibility of his partnerships with traditional allies Moscow and Beijing as he tries to break out of diplomatic isolation and have North Korea be part of a united front against Washington.

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The United States has been accusing North Korea since last year of providing Russia with arms, including artillery shells sold to the Russian mercenary group Wagner. Both Russian and North Korean officials denied such claims.

But speculation about the countries' military cooperation grew after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made a rare visit to North Korea in July when Kim invited him to an arms exhibition and a massive military parade in the capital where he showcased ICBMs designed to target the US mainland.

Following that visit, Kim toured North Korea's weapons factories, including a facility producing artillery systems where he urged workers to speed up the development and large-scale production of new kinds of ammunition. 

Experts say Kim's visits to the factories likely had a dual goal of encouraging the modernisation of North Korean weaponry and examining artillery and other supplies that could be exported to Russia.

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