Kim Jong Un’s arrival in Russia sets stage for high-stakes ‘negotiations’ with Putin

The summit could change the dynamics of global security, experts say.
By Lee Jeong-Ho for RFA
Seoul, South Korea
Kim Jong Un’s arrival in Russia sets stage for high-stakes ‘negotiations’ with Putin North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves from a private train as he departs Pyongyang, North Korea, to visit Russia, September 10, 2023, in this image released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency on September 12, 2023.
KCNA via Reuters

Updated Sept. 12, 2023, 1:20 p.m. ET

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived in Russia’s Far East on Tuesday for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin where arms trade is expected to dominate the agenda.

Kim’s signature bulletproof train pulled into a station in Russia’s Far East, according to footage shown by Yonhap News TV and other South Korean media late Tuesday. 

Dressed in a black suit, Kim descended the red-carpeted stairs as he received salutes from dozens of Russian soldiers from its army, air force and navy. 

The footage appears to be from the border town of Khasan. As Kim entered what appears to be a station building, a Russian marching band performed a rousing tune, welcoming him to his second visit to their country. 

“We believe that Kim Jong Un entered Russia on a private train, probably in the early hours of this morning,” South Korea’s Defense Ministry spokesperson Jeon Ha-kyu said on Tuesday. 

“We’re watching closely to see if there are any negotiations going on between North Korea and Russia regarding arms deals, technology transfers, especially given that he was accompanied by a number of military personnel,” he said.

Military cooperation

The summit could change the dynamics of global security, experts say.

The talks, inevitably, will likely be centered around bilateral military cooperation, said Cheon Seong-whun, a former security strategy secretary for South Korea’s presidential office.

Should North Korea provide ammunition supplies to Russia, that could prolong its aggression in Ukraine and drag the war into a long-term conflict that further destabilizes Europe. Strained ammunition supplies are currently holding Russia back to advance deeper into Ukrainian territories. 

“Russia is in urgent need of conventional weapons, including artillery shells, and North Korea may ask for an S-400 missile defense system to compensate for its weak air defense.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un departs Pyongyang, North Korea, to visit Russia, September 10, 2023, in this image released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency on September 12, 2023. Credit: KCNA via Reuters


The S-400 missile defense system, deployed in Russia, is designed to shoot down air-threats including enemy’s aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles. Incorporating the Russian defense system could significantly boost the North’s relatively weak air defense, and therefore undermine the allies’ deterrence capability.

North Korea, in turn, is likely to demand the transfer of “technology for spy satellites and intercontinental ballistic missile reentry,” Cheon said. He added that Kim may also ask for nuclear-powered submarines, hypersonic missiles, and nuclear warhead miniaturization technologies.

“The bottom line is that North Korea’s attempts to diversify tactical nuclear forces will continue,” he said.

The two leaders are set to have “negotiations” and attend an “official banquet,” Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters earlier on Tuesday, according to the official news agency, Tass. “No press conferences are planned,” he added. 

“As you know, while implementing our relations with our neighbors, including North Korea, the interests of our two countries are important to us, and not warnings from Washington,” Peskov said, according to Tass. “It is the interests of our two countries that we will focus on.”

Location uncertain

While Kim is set to meet Putin on Wednesday, according to Russian media RBK, it is still unclear as to where that would happen. Diplomats and analysts have initially speculated that it would occur in the far eastern city of Vladivostok, but Kim’s train has reportedly gone further north. 

South Korea’s Yonhap News agency and Japan’s Kyodo News reported that the summit may take place at Vostochny Cosmodrome. Putin, who is attending the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, said on Tuesday that he plans to visit the spaceport without confirming he would meet Kim there. 

Kyodo also added that the two then plan to visit the Sukhoi fighter jet production facility in the city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur in Khabarovsk. 

This picture taken on April 25, 2019 shows Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending a reception following their talks at the Far Eastern Federal University campus on Russky island in the far-eastern Russian port of Vladivostok. Credit: STR/KCNA VIA KNS/AFP

Seoul urged Pyongyang and Moscow to align with the UN’s security council resolutions in upholding regional peace. 

“Russia and North Korea should be reminded of their obligations under UN Security Council resolutions and various international sanctions against arms trade and military cooperation,” Lim Soo-suk, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in a regular briefing. 

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol hopes that “Russia would play a responsible role as a permanent member of the Security Council,” an official from the presidential office told reporters.

Last meeting

Kim and Putin’s last summit in April 2019 took place in Vladivostok, where the two reinforced their diplomatic ties. The meeting came just two months after Kim’s high-stakes nuclear negotiation with the United States collapsed in Hanoi. 

After the summit, where Putin reiterated Russia’s role as a regime backer, Kim returned to his brinkmanship diplomacy, firing multiple missiles.

North Korea is also seeking diplomatic and economic support to revive its coronavirus and sanctions-hit economy. Almost half of the North Korean people were undernourished between 2020 and 2022, a World Food Program report published in July found. 

The food shortage in North Korea appears to be spreading, with sources inside the country telling Radio Free Asia that as many as 30% of farmers in two northern provinces are unable to work on collective farms because they’re weak from hunger.

Any economic support from Russia may also undermine and water down the effects of the international community’s imposed sanctions to force North Korea to denuclearize. 

On the other hand, a bolstered alliance between Moscow and Pyongyang would reshape the region’s geopolitical dynamics, pulling it further away from the pressure to disarm and non-proliferation.  

Edited by Elaine Chan, Mike Firn and Malcolm Foster.

Updated to recast and add details of Kim's arrival.


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