Kim Jong Un’s heavily fortified private train has crossed into Russia ahead of an anticipated and closely-watched summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to state media reports. This event unfolds amid warnings from the United States about the possibility of the two leaders striking an arms deal.
The train journeyed north through Primorsky Krai in the Far East region of Russia, as reported by Russian state news agency RIA. South Korea’s Defense Ministry believed that Kim Jong Un entered Russia early Tuesday morning local time.
A video shared by Russia Today on Monday, verified by CNN, showed the train purportedly carrying Kim near the Russian-North Korean border by the Tumen river.
This one-on-one meeting between Kim and Putin, expected to occur in Russia’s far east, is considered a significant development. It brings together two leaders who have increasingly found themselves isolated on the world stage.
Russia is in dire need of fresh supplies of ammunition and shells after over 18 months of conflict in Ukraine has severely depleted its military resources. Meanwhile, North Korea, grappling with years of international sanctions due to its nuclear weapons program, faces shortages in various areas, including currency, food, and missile technology.
This summit has the potential to provide Pyongyang access to weapons that United Nations sanctions have barred it from acquiring for over two decades, particularly for its nuclear-capable ballistic missile program.
The US government stated last week that arms negotiations between Russia and North Korea are “actively advancing,” and further talks could occur as part of Russia’s quest to find new sources for weapons to support its campaign in Ukraine.
South Korean Defense Ministry spokesperson Jeon Ha-kyu also noted on Tuesday that the ministry is closely monitoring whether North Korea and Russia will proceed with negotiations on an arms deal and technology transfer.
Kim Jong Un’s departure from Pyongyang, which took place on Sunday afternoon, was accompanied by top party officials, government members, and armed forces personnel, as reported by North Korean news agency KCNA. Images released by KCNA depicted Kim walking down a red carpet at a Pyongyang station and boarding the iconic green train, with a cheering crowd in the background waving flags.
Neither country has specified the exact timing or location of the summit. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated, “At this point, we are not saying, in the Far East,” according to Russian state media TASS. Peskov emphasized that bilateral relations between the nations would be a focal point of the meeting, which will encompass discussions between the two delegations. The talks will also address “sensitive areas,” and a formal dinner is planned in honor of Kim’s arrival.
On Tuesday, Putin was in Vladivostok for the Eastern Economic Forum, where he highlighted Russia’s trade opportunities with Asia-Pacific countries. He also met with China’s Vice Premier Zhang Guoqing, asserting that relations between the two nations had reached an “unprecedented historical level,” according to Russian state media agencies.
Kim’s arrival in Russia is a rare foreign trip for the leader of one of the world’s most isolated nations. It marks his first visit abroad since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, during which North Korea sealed its borders.
Kim’s preference for traveling in the upscale armored train, reminiscent of his grandfather Kim Il Sung and father Kim Jong Il, is well-known. The green train has become a symbol of North Korea’s isolation and secrecy.
Washington has issued warnings about the potential outcomes of a Kim-Putin meeting, especially in relation to a possible arms deal. These concerns surfaced after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Pyongyang in July in an effort to persuade North Korea to sell artillery ammunition to Moscow.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan cautioned last Tuesday that North Korea would “pay a price” if it entered into an arms deal with Russia, though he did not elaborate on the repercussions. On Monday, the White House urged North Korea to refrain from providing or selling arms to Russia.
North Korea is already under United Nations and US sanctions due to its weapons program. Despite these sanctions, Kim has accelerated the development of his ballistic missile program in recent years, conducting numerous missile tests, including intercontinental ballistic ones that theoretically could reach the US mainland.
While doubts persist about the extent of North Korea’s capabilities, the acquisition of technology from Russia, a long-standing leader in nuclear missile forces, could significantly boost Kim’s programs and raise concerns among Western leaders.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, noted that a one-on-one meeting between Kim and Putin would be a “very significant development,” as Russia possesses the military technology sought by Kim for his satellite launch and nuclear weapons delivery programs.
On the other hand, Moscow urgently requires ammunition and small arms, areas where North Korea is believed to have strong production capabilities, particularly in light of its proximity to the front lines in Ukraine.
While these arms could replenish depleted stocks and prolong the conflict, some analysts believe they may not fundamentally alter the direction of the conflict in Ukraine. However, the potential implications of such an arms deal remain a topic of concern and scrutiny for the international community.
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