Kim Jong-un invited President Vladimir Putin to visit North Korea during their meeting in Russia on Wednesday, Pyongyang’s state media reported, amid warnings that Kim was poised to offer the Kremlin artillery shells and other munitions for the war in Ukraine.
Kim told Putin that their closely watched meeting had brought bilateral ties to a new level, and expressed his willingness to foster stable, future-oriented relations for the next 100 years, news agency KCNA said.
The report went on to say that Kim was briefed on technical details about Russian space vehicles during his visit to a cosmodrome, but there was no mention of any arms supplies, trade of weapons or technical assistance over weapons programs.
Japan’s Kyodo news agency quoted sources saying Kim was scheduled to visit a factory that manufactures Sukhoi fighter jets and other aircraft after the talks with Putin.
US and South Korean officials have expressed concern that Kim could provide weapons and ammunition to Russia, which has expended vast stocks in more than 18 months of war in Ukraine. Moscow and Pyongyang have denied such intentions.
On Wednesday, Putin gave numerous hints that military cooperation was discussed at the summit, but disclosed few details. Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, attended the talks. The Kremlin said sensitive discussions between neighbours were a private matter.
During Wednesday’s meeting at the Vostochny cosmodrome in the remote region of Amur, Kim offered Putin his support for Russia’s “sacred fight” against the west, while Putin reportedly offered Russian help with North Korea’s troubled satellite programme.
The two leaders’ one-on-one talks, as well as discussions with delegations, lasted for about two hours and were followed by an official dinner in Kim’s honour. The two also discussed the possibility of sending a North Korean cosmonaut into space, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
The choice of venue for the summit was significant, given North Korea’s interest in pursuing a space programme. Before their talks, the leaders toured assembly and launch facilities at the cosmodrome, located in the forests of eastern Russia, not far from the Chinese border.
On Wednesday, the US expressed alarm over potential new military cooperation between Russia and North Korea. The cooperation announced during Kim’s visit was “quite troubling and would potentially be in violation of multiple UN security council resolutions”, state department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.
He noted US concerns that North Korean satellites, on which president Putin promised cooperation, have been used to develop Pyongyang’s ballistic missiles.
The US “will not hesitate” to impose sanctions if appropriate, Miller said.
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said in an interview aired on Wednesday that Russia’s reliance on North Korea and Iran showed its dire situation as it wages its war in Ukraine.
“That’s kind of a ‘Star Wars’ bar scene of countries. So I think it does speak to Russia’s desperation,” Blinken told the Pod Save the World podcast.
“We’re looking to make sure that we, as necessary, can impose costs and consequences.”
Separately on Wednesday, the US approved a $5bn sale to South Korea of F-35s, top-of-the-line fighter-jets with stealth capacity.
The sale of the 25 jets “will improve the Republic of Korea’s capability to meet current and future threats by providing credible defense capability to deter aggression in the region and ensure interoperability with US forces”, a state department statement said.
The sale comes as tensions with North Korea ratchet up. Pyongyang carried out its latest missile tests as Kim visited Russia.
The US has stepped up three-way cooperation with Japan and South Korea, allies that are home to US troops. At a summit last month at the Camp David presidential resort near Washington, President Joe Biden, South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol and the Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida, promised to work more closely together on North Korea and other challenges.
With Agence France-Presse and Reuters