North Korean leader Kim Jong-un left Pyongyang in his armored train to meet with Vladimir Putin in Russia.
Western intelligence agencies expect the two to discuss North Korea supplying weapons and ammunition to support the Russian war machine in Ukraine. Moscow is wasting thousands of artillery shells every day during its invasion and is struggling to keep up with demand. Tough sanctions from Kiev’s Western allies have forced Mr. Putin to turn to the few nations that openly support the 18-month-old invasion.
The Krelim said the visit would include a formal lunch “in the coming days.” “It will be a comprehensive visit. A formal lunch is also planned,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
South Korean media, citing government sources, reported that the train left the North Korean capital on Sunday evening and that the summit was expected to take place on Tuesday or Wednesday in Vladivostok – which is just 80 miles from the Russia-North Korea border.
The extreme weight of the bulletproof train with its distinctive olive green color ensures a relatively slow ride. The 683 miles to Vladivostok is expected to be covered in about 20 hours, at a speed of about 60 km/h and with a long stop at the border to swap wheels that fit on Russian railway tracks.
It will be Mr Kim’s first foreign visit in more than four years as the country’s borders were closed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Mr Kim’s last trip abroad in 2019 was also to Vladivostok for his first summit with Mr Putin.
The Pentagon said Mr. Kim was on his way. “We expect some kind of meeting [and] “Based on the information we have, KJU is traveling to Russia,” said Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder.
The Russian president will speak at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok this week. The day of Mr Putin’s speech is not yet clear.
Locals in Vladivostok reported a higher than usual police presence on the streets. “Both countries show their teeth to the whole world and can stand up for themselves. So there is something in common,” said resident Fyodor, who did not give her last name.
Another resident, Svetlana, said: “Him [Kim Jong-un] is such a cryptic person, so I don’t even know if he will come or not. But I think he has to come – we have some changes going on, so what is happening in Russia must be interesting for him.”
The Kremlin said last week that Moscow intended to deepen its “mutually respectful relations” with Pyongyang, one of its close Cold War allies and also one of the few countries supporting Russia’s announced annexation of parts of Ukraine in 2022.
The United States said it would be a “big mistake” for North Korea to supply Russia with weapons for use in Ukraine and warned Pyongyang it would “pay a price.”
North Korea has tens of millions of Soviet-style artillery shells and missiles that could potentially give the Russian army a huge boost, analysts say.
In return, they speculate, Mr. Kim could receive much-needed energy and food aid as well as advanced weapons technologies, including those related to intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarines and military reconnaissance satellites.
There are concerns that potential Russian technology transfers would increase the threat posed by Kim’s growing arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles targeting the United States, South Korea and Japan. But some analysts say a potential meeting between Kim and Putin would be more about symbolic gains than substantive military cooperation.
Russia, which has always closely guarded its key weapons technologies, even from key allies such as China, may be unwilling to undertake major technology transfers with North Korea for the likely limited war supplies transported via a small rail link between the countries, they say
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited the North Korean capital in July along with officials from China, Pyongyang’s largest trading partner. John Kirby, spokesman for the US National Security Council, said that during the visit Mr Shoigu tried to “persuade Pyongyang to sell artillery ammunition to Russia”.
Putin and Kim are said to have exchanged letters following Shoigu’s visit, during which the defense minister was shown the North Korean leader’s weapons – including the Hwasong intercontinental ballistic missile. Two new drone designs were also shown at the exhibition, including one similar to the U.S. Air Force’s primary attack drone, according to analysts at NK News, a website specializing in North Korea.
Mr. Kirby said the letters between Mr. Kim and Mr. Putin were “rather superficial,” but the North Korean leader is known for sending effusive letters to other world leaders he considers allies — or at least useful. In June, Mr. Kim sent a message to Mr. Putin to mark Russia’s national holiday, saying he would “hold hands” with the Russian leader and that the nation had the full support of the North Korean people.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report