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Kim Jong-un’s armoured train heads towards Russia for Putin talks

Kim Jong-un’s armoured train heads towards Russia for Putin talks
Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un in 2019. (Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko / AFP / Getty Images)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un headed to Russia via his luxury armoured train ahead of talks with President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok that the US said would touch on arms transfers to help the Kremlin’s war machine.

Kim left Pyongyang “by his train on Sunday afternoon to visit the Russian Federation”, North Korea’s official KCNA news agency confirmed, after saying earlier that Kim would meet with Putin. The Dong-A Ilbo newspaper in South Korea also reported the train was headed for Russia and expected to cross the border early Tuesday.

A South Korean official said Kim may hold a summit with Putin on Wednesday.

North Korea and Russia have a rail link at their border and from there it’s about 150 kilometres to Vladivostok. The trip will be Kim’s first outside of the Korean Peninsula since he last met Putin four years ago in the city. Kim’s train moves at a plodding pace, with his rail journey to the Russian eastern city taking about 20 hours for him to reach his destination, Yonhap news agency said.

“The respected Comrade Kim Jong-un will meet and have a talk with Comrade Putin during the visit,” KCNA said in a brief dispatch.

Kim has been expected to travel this week to Vladivostok to meet Putin during the annual Eastern Economic Forum, which started Sunday and runs through Wednesday, according to a person familiar with the moves. A Kremlin spokesperson said Monday there were no plans for the two to speak at the event, which left open the possibility they could speak on the sidelines as the forum ends.

The Kremlin has said Putin would be in Vladivostok early this week. Putin said he’s looking to build stronger ties with North Korea “on all fronts” in a message marking the 75th anniversary of the state’s founding over the weekend.

Putin and Kim held their first official meeting in April 2019. While the 2019 meeting touched on the breakdown of nuclear disarmament talks between North Korea and the US, the upcoming visit will likely be colored by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The discussions will be focused on the development of the cooperation between the nations, a person familiar said.

The US for months has accused North Korea of supplying munitions to help Putin’s war in Ukraine, something Moscow and Pyongyang have denied. It said again last week that arms negotiations between Russia and North Korea are “actively advancing”.

The most obvious items Pyongyang has and Moscow needs are artillery shells and rockets that Moscow can use in the Soviet-era weaponry it has pushed into action in Ukraine.

North Korea has some of the world’s largest supplies of munitions, which Russia needs as it burns through its stocks of artillery shells. The US has said any supplies would not alter the course of the war.

Kim may be seeking in return food aid as well as technology to help his state build a nuclear-powered submarine and deploy spy satellites. Any cash would also be of great help to North Korea’s paltry economy that is estimated to be smaller now than when Kim took power a decade ago, and which has sparse foreign currency reserves.

Seeking military aid from North Korea would mark a reversal for the two countries. The Soviet Union was the biggest backer for Pyongyang after it was formed 75 years ago and supplied it with weapons that were essential in its invasion of South Korea at the start of the 1950-1953 Korean War.

(With assistance from Shinhye Kang.)

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