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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived in Russia on his private train on Tuesday for a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin that could seal an arms deal to support Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
The visit marks Kim’s first foreign trip since the Covid-19 pandemic. The US expects the two leaders to discuss the sale of North Korean weapons to Moscow as Russian forces try to contain a Ukrainian counter offensive.
Putin and Kim would meet “in the coming days” and would be joined by Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday, without giving details of time or venue.
Kim left Pyongyang on Sunday after attending a military parade celebrating his communist state’s founding and hosting diplomatic meetings at which he vowed to strengthen relations with China and Russia. He was accompanied by senior party officials, diplomats and military commanders.
Russian state TV channel Rossiya-24 showed footage of a Russian railways locomotive pulling Kim’s green railway carriages over a bridge that spans the river marking the border with North Korea. Rossiya-24 said the train crossed the border in “absolute secrecy” on Tuesday morning.
Peskov said Putin and Kim would meet after the Eastern Economic Forum that the Russian president is attending in the eastern city of Vladivostok, and that the meeting would include a lunch in Kim’s honour.
Rossiya-24 said the meeting would probably be held at the Vostochny cosmodrome in Russia’s far east on Wednesday.
Asked at an EEF panel on Tuesday about his plans to visit Vostochny, Putin said: “I have a programme there. When I get there, you’ll know.”
The space launch facility is about 900km north-west of Ussuriysk, a city where Kim’s train was seen on Tuesday and which is about 60km north of Vladivostok, but the railway route is circuitous and it was unclear how long Kim’s train would take to get there.
Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, has reported that Kim’s luxurious green and yellow train has at least 20 bulletproof carriages, and its resulting heavy weight means it travels at only around 59km/h.
The train, with communications equipment, is designed to function as Kim’s “moving office,” according to Yonhap. It also has a compartment for Kim’s bulletproof Mercedes-Benz limousine, South Korean broadcaster YTN said.
Kim’s visit to Russia comes more than four years after he held his first summit with Putin in Vladivostok.
Military ties between Russia and North Korea are deepening as both countries are increasingly isolated and subject to international sanctions.
US officials and analysts expect Putin to seek conventional weapons including munitions from Pyongyang as Russian forces are rapidly burning through supplies due to heavy use of artillery in Ukraine. Kim is likely to ask for food aid and advanced weapons technology to build spy satellites and nuclear-powered submarines.
“Russia will not accept all North Korean demands, especially for technological help for advanced weapons in return for limited military supplies from Pyongyang,” said Kim Jae-chun, a professor at Sogang University in Seoul. “But it will have to say yes to some demands, because it is important for Russia to seize victory in the Ukraine war.”
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