Vladimir Putin has said Russia is considering and discussing some military cooperation with North Korea, following a summit at which that country’s leader Kim Jong Un appeared to endorse Moscow’s war on Ukraine.
The leaders met at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s far east, as both countries face international isolation over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.
The meeting came after US officials warned that Russia and North Korea are “actively advancing” in a potential arms deal that could see Pyongyang provide weapons for Moscow to use in its faltering Ukraine war in exchange for sanctioned ballistic missile technology.
Putin was asked if he discussed military-technical cooperation with Kim during the leaders’ meeting. In his response, Putin acknowledged the certain restrictions in place, which Moscow fully complies with, but admitted there are areas open for discussion and consideration, suggesting the presence of potential prospects for cooperation.
“Well, there are certain restrictions, and Russia complies with all these restrictions,” Putin told state-owned Russia 1. “But there are things that we can of course talk about, discuss, think about it. And here too there are prospects,” he added.
Kim said before a toast at a state dinner with Putin that he is “certain that the Russian people and its military will emerge victorious in the fight to punish the evil forces that ambitiously pursues hegemony and expansion.”
Without naming Ukraine, Kim said the “Russian military and its people will inherit the shining tradition of victory” and demonstrate their reputation on the frontline of “military operation,” the euphemistic phrasing Moscow uses to describe its illegal invasion of Ukraine.
“I will always be standing with Russia,” Kim said, praising Moscow for having “stood up against the hegemonic forces” to defend its sovereignty and security, a veiled reference to the United States and the West.
In return, Putin signaled a willingness to assist North Korea in developing its space and satellite program.
“The leader of North Korea shows great interest in space, in rocketry, and they are trying to develop space. We’ll show our new objects,” Putin said. “We’ll talk about all the issues without haste, there is time.”
Video released by the Kremlin Wednesday showed the two leaders shaking hands before touring the space center and adjoining rocket complex, where launch vehicles are assembled and tested, according to Russian state media.
North Korea has made space technology a priority – but has some ways to go, having tried and failed twice this year to launch a spy satellite into orbit.
Kim has also stressed the role of military satellites as a means to protect national safety and territorial stability and has spoken of their strategic value when deploying military force preemptively, North Korean state media reported in April.
Providing this technology to North Korea would be in violation of international sanctions, aimed at hampering Pyongyang’s ability to build a fully functioning nuclear weapons and ballistic missile force.
The talks between the two leaders, which lasted a total of five hours, were “very substantive,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, according to RIA. Peskov claimed North Korea “shows huge interest in developing bilateral ties with Russia.”
Putin also described to Russia 1 the initial “candid exchange of views” as “highly productive.”
Responding to the summit, US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Russia’s engagement with North Korea was a mark of its desperation.
Why the meeting at a space center matters
During the tour, the two leaders inspected the complex where Russia plans to launch its next generation of spacecraft.
The facilities were built to receive launch vehicles, conduct pre-launch preparations, launches, and post-launch operations, state news agency TASS reported.
Analysts say the location of Wednesday’s summit at the space center was significant.
Moscow is in need of fresh supplies of ammunition and shells after more than 18 months of war in Ukraine has left its military battered, while North Korea, which has faced years of international sanctions over its nuclear weapons program, is short of everything from hard cash and food to missile technology.
North Korea has also signaled the meeting would deepen ties between the two countries.
Kim arrived in Russia on Tuesday aboard his heavily-armored private train accompanied by party and military leaders, according to photos shared by North Korean state media.
During a stop at the border town Khasan Tuesday, where Kim was welcomed by Russian officials, the North Korean leader said his trip to Russia was a “clear manifestation” of Pyongyang “prioritizing the strategic importance” of Moscow-Pyongyang relations, state media reported.
Former US National Security Adviser John Bolton warned Tuesday that the meeting between Putin and Kim is “quite significant,” and “goes well beyond a potential arms deal.”
After the talks, Kremlin spokesperson Peskov said “North Korea is our close neighbor,” according to state media.
“And despite any comments from the outside, we will build relationships with our neighbors in a way that is beneficial to us and our neighbors,” he said.
Among Kim’s delegation are his second-in-command of the military, Ri Pyong Chol, a target of US and UN sanctions for his role in leading the country’s ballistic missile programs as the former head of Department of the Munitions Industry, photos from KCNA show. His sister and high-level official Kim Yo Jong was also seen standing alongside her brother while he signed a guest book.
Accompanying Putin was Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who visited Pyongyang in July. Putin told reporters Wednesday that Shoigu “was well received” in North Korea and “we have a lot of questions.”
North Korea fires ballistic missiles
Hours before the summit, North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles into the waters off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.
The two ballistic missiles fired by North Korea each traveled about 650 kilometers (400 miles) before falling into the sea, it added.
US and South Korean intelligence authorities were analyzing further details of the launch, said the JCS which called it “a significant provocative act” that threatens peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula as well as the international community.”
Analysts say it’s unusual for Pyongyang to conduct a launch while Kim is out of the country.
North Korea may be intending “to show that the military maintains readiness with uninterrupted command and control,” Easley, the professor of international studies, said.
“It is also remarkable that North Korea fires missiles subject to UN sanctions while Kim is in Russia to meet with the leader of a permanent member of the Security Council,” Easley added.