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Kim Jong-un says visit shows ‘strategic importance’ of ties with Russia

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, right, salutes an honor guard in a welcome ceremony after crossing the border to Russia at Khasan Tuesday, where he was greeted by Russian Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology Alexander Kozlov, left, in a photo provided by the North’s Korean Central News Agency Wednesday. [YONHAP]
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, right, salutes an honor guard in a welcome ceremony after crossing the border to Russia at Khasan Tuesday, where he was greeted by Russian Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology Alexander Kozlov, left, in a photo provided by the North’s Korean Central News Agency Wednesday. [YONHAP]

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said his trip to Russia ahead of a rare summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “clear manifestation” of prioritizing the “strategic importance” of their bilateral ties, according to its state media Wednesday.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KNCA) said that Kim arrived on his armored train at a station in Khasan, a Russian border city in Primorsky Krai, or the Russian Far East, at 6 a.m. Tuesday. Russian officials from Moscow and the local government greeted him in a welcome ceremony with an honor guard.

This will mark the two leaders’ first summit in four years in Russia, which could include discussions of a possible arms deal and strengthening of military cooperation.

The KCNA said that the purpose of the visit was to “elevate and develop the friendly and cooperative relationship” between North Korea and Russia to a “higher level.”

Kim told Russian officials that his visit marks his first overseas trip since the global “public health crisis,” KCNA said, referring to the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said that his visit is a manifestation of his government and the ruling Workers’ Party’s stance on the “strategic importance” of the North Korea-Russia bilateral relationship.

Russian media video footage showed Kim receiving a red carpet welcome at Khasan Station. He was received by Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Alexander Kozlov and local officials, including Oleg Kozhemyako, governor of Primorsky Krai.

This marks Kim’s first overseas trip since a visit to Vladivostok, in Russia’s Far East, in April 2019 for a summit with Putin.

Kim’s train later departed for an unnamed destination.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un steps down from his armored train and is greeted by Rusian officials after arriving at Khasan Station Tuesday, in a photo provided by the North’s Korean Central News Agency Wednesday. [YONHAP]
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un steps down from his armored train and is greeted by Rusian officials after arriving at Khasan Station Tuesday, in a photo provided by the North’s Korean Central News Agency Wednesday. [YONHAP]

The two leaders could hold a bilateral summit as early as Wednesday, with the Vostochny Cosmodrome spaceport in Amur Oblast being reported as a likely venue for the meeting.

Putin was attending the annual Eastern Economic Forum at Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok this week.

Russian media outlet RBK reported that the two leaders will hold a summit on Wednesday, and that Kim will also meet with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Saturday.

The meeting could be an opportunity to find a way around crippling UN sanctions on Pyongyang, with the Kremlin signaling that it is open to discussing Security Council issues with North Korea before the summit.

If an arms deal is made, North Korea could provide potentially ammunition to Russia, which has depleted its ammunition supply amid its war on Ukraine.

Pyongyang, in turn, could ask for Russian technologies related to nuclear-powered submarines, missiles and satellites, which would be in violation of UN sanctions. Russia could also provide food and energy assistance much needed by the North.

The U.S. State Department said it will “not hesitate” to take action should North Korea agree to provide weapons to Russia.

Any arms transfer from North Korea to Russia “would violate multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions,” Matthew Miller, a State Department spokesperson, told a press briefing in Washington Tuesday. “It would be a sign of the desperate state in which the Russian government finds itself a year and a half into this war that it has been prosecuting unsuccessfully against Ukraine.”

He added that the United States “will not hesitate to take action to hold those accountable if necessary.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, left, holds talks with Russian Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology Alexander Kozlov, right, in Khasan, Russia, Tuesday in a photo provided by Primorsky Krai Region Administration Wednesday. [AP/YONHAP]
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, left, holds talks with Russian Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology Alexander Kozlov, right, in Khasan, Russia, Tuesday in a photo provided by Primorsky Krai Region Administration Wednesday. [YONHAP]

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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