Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, has apparently reached Russia ahead of a summit with President Vladimir Putin that the US said would focus on supplying weapons for Moscow’s war on Ukraine. Kim Jong Un travelled on his luxuriously decorated, heavily armoured and exceptionally slow-moving private train, with photos showing that he was likely accompanied by top arms industry officials, among other diplomats and military commanders.
Reports claimed that Kim Jong Un’s train is so heavy that it is unable to go beyond 59 km/hour – in comparison to London’s high-speed rail which runs at about 200km/hour and Japan’s Shinkansen bullet trains which can hit 320 km/hour.
So, why does the North Korean leader prefer to travel by train instead of taking a flight?
Reportedly, Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, and his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, were both afraid of flying. South Korean media has earlier claimed that the fear was possibly triggered when Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung witnessed the explosion of their jet during a test flight.
While Kim Il Sung flew to the Soviet Union after that incident, in 1986, it was the last time a North Korean leader publicly travelled abroad by air for more than three decades, news agency AP reported.
Kim Jong Un, however, reportedly was a frequent flier during his boarding school days in Switzerland.
But since taking office in 2011, he has also occasionally opted to fly, including to Singapore in 2018 for his first meeting with then US president Donald Trump.
Many believe his preference for travelling by train could be to follow his family’s tradition and show to respect his elders.
What to know about Kim Jong Un’s luxurious train
Photos released by state media showed military honour guards and crowds of people in dark suits and colourful dresses waving flowers and flags as he boarded the dark green train, which is believed to be armoured and carry other specialised equipment.
Kim Jong Un’s train, the same one used by his father and grandfather, has 21 bulletproof carriages with plush leather sofas and conference rooms, news agency Reuters reported.
Kim Jong Un possibly believes the armoured train provides more security—and luxury—than a flight.
Chosun Media states that two separate trains travel with the main entourage; the one in front handles security checks to ensure the railway tracks are safe, and the one behind carries bodyguards and support personnel.
The Washington Post reported that on board, there are likely to be other luxuries. One of the most detailed accounts of travel aboard a North Korean leader’s train came from a Russian official, Konstantin Pulikovsky, who recounted a trip across Russia’s Far East with Kim Jong Il in a book called “Orient Express.” Pulikovsky’s book described a gourmet menu with a wide variety of food on offer.
The Chosun Ilbo reported that around 100 security agents are sent ahead to stations to sweep them for potential threats, while the power is turned off at stations to prevent other trains from moving. There is also a large logistical support group that includes Soviet-made Il-76 air force transport planes and Mi-17 helicopters, the newspaper reported in 2009.
Kim Jong Un’s Russia trip
Kim Jong Un’s trip to Russia and meeting with Vladimir Putin will be a full-scale visit, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in a video posted online.
According to Peskov, the main topic of the talks will be relations between the neighbouring countries. “We will continue to strengthen our friendship,” he said.
Both Moscow and Pyongyang have denied earlier US accusations that they had conducted arms deals, but the two countries have vowed to boost defence ties.