SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said Tuesday that leader Kim Jong-un has returned home from a trip to Russia where he deepened “companionship and friendly ties” with President Vladimir Putin.
During Kim’s six-day trip to Russia, his longest trip abroad as a leader, the two countries said they discussed strengthening their defense ties, but did not disclose any concrete steps. Foreign experts speculate that the two countries, both locked in confrontation with the West, sought to conclude arms transfer agreements in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
This was announced by the official Korean Central News Agency Kim’s train crossed the border river on Monday morning but did not say whether he was headed for the capital Pyongyang or elsewhere in the country. Before traveling to Russia, Kim made several visits to his munitions factories, prompting speculation that he intended to inspect the production of weapons to be shipped to Russia.
While traveling through Russia’s Far East region, Kim met with Putin at the most important location in Russia space launch center before visiting military sites to see some of Russia’s most advanced weapons systems, such as nuclear bombers, fighter jets and hypersonic missiles.
In live comments during their meeting last Wednesday, Kim offered Putin “full and unconditional support.” KCNA later said Kim and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also met and discussed expanding “strategic and tactical coordination” between the countries’ armed forces.
Many outside experts say Kim will supply ammunition to replenish Russia’s depleted stockpiles in the second year of the war in Ukraine in exchange for receiving Russian technology to upgrade its nuclear weapons. US and South Korean officials have warned that Russia and North Korea will face consequences if they continue such arms transfer deals in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.
Other experts say Kim would eventually receive food and economic aid because Russia is reluctant to share its sensitive, high-tech weapons technology with other countries.
South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Jang Ho-jin summoned Russia’s ambassador to Seoul, Andrey Kulik, on Tuesday and called on Moscow to immediately stop military cooperation with North Korea, which he said would have a “very negative impact” on its relations with Korea. South. Kulik said he would convey Seoul’s concerns to his government, the South Korean ministry said in a statement.
Kim has been pushing hard to boost his nuclear arsenal, citing what he has called intensifying US military threats. Analysts say Kim would like to use his expanded arsenal to win greater concessions from the US while bolstering his military reputation at home in the face of economic hardships exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Contributed by AP Writer Kim Tong-hyung.