North Korea announced on Tuesday that its leader, Kim Jong Un, has concluded his visit to Russia, strengthening “comradely fellowship and friendly ties” with President Vladimir Putin. This trip marked Kim’s longest foreign journey since assuming power in late 2011, although specific details about the six-day visit remain limited.
During his stay in Russia, Kim visited several military sites and publicly expressed North Korea’s “full and unconditional support” for Putin. Additionally, Kim engaged in discussions with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on the expansion of “strategic and tactical coordination” between their respective armed forces.
These developments raised concerns about potential arms deals, suggesting North Korea might supply ammunition to replenish Russia’s dwindling inventory during the Ukraine conflict. In return, North Korea could receive Russian technologies to modernise its nuclear weapons arsenal. Both U.S. and South Korean officials have warned that such weapons transfer agreements would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions, leading to consequences.
Kim’s return, as reported by the Korean Central News Agency, mentioned his train crossing a border river on Monday morning, but it did not specify whether he was heading to Pyongyang or elsewhere within North Korea. Before embarking on his trip to Russia, Kim visited munitions factories, sparking speculation that he was inspecting arms production for potential shipments to Russia.
While travelling through Russia’s far eastern region, Kim visited Putin at Russia’s primary space launch centre and toured military sites to view advanced weapons systems, including nuclear-capable bombers, fighter jets, and hypersonic missiles.
Experts have varying opinions on the outcome of Kim’s visit. Some suggest that Kim aimed to secure Russian assistance in obtaining a sophisticated spy satellite, a nuclear-propelled submarine, and powerful long-range missiles. However, others argue that Kim may have received primarily food and economic aid, as Russia remains reluctant to share its sensitive high-tech weapons technology.
Kim’s efforts to strengthen his nuclear arsenal have been driven by what he perceives as intensifying U.S. military threats. Analysts believe he aims to leverage this enlarged arsenal to extract greater concessions from the U.S. while bolstering his domestic military reputation, particularly in light of economic hardships exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.