Putin meets Kim Jong Un at Russia's space centre; Kremlin to help North Korea build satellites

Experts say Russia will likely seek artillery shells and antitank missiles from North Korea, which wants advanced satellite and nuclear-powered submarine technology in return.

Published: 13th September 2023 10:53 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th September 2023 10:56 AM   |  A+A-

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shake hands outside the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia's far eastern Amur region, Sept. 13, 2023. (Photo | AP)


MOSCOW:  Russian President Vladimir Putin shook hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a Russian space centre Wednesday, images released by the Kremlin showed, kicking off a meeting that could see the leaders forge an arms deal that would defy global sanctions.

The internationally-isolated pair are meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a Russian spaceport some 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) from Vladivostok, with Putin saying the location was chosen as Moscow plans to help North Korea build satellites, RIA Novosti reported.

Wearing a dark suit and smiling widely, Kim shook Putin's hand enthusiastically —  a video released by the Kremlin showed the two leaders then walking around the vast space centre.

"The leader of the DPRK shows great interest in rocket technology, and they are trying to develop (their presence in) space," Putin said, referring to North Korea by its official name.

Experts say Russia will likely seek artillery shells and antitank missiles from North Korea, which wants advanced satellite and nuclear-powered submarine technology in return.

EXPLAINER: As Kim heads to Russia, what do Pyongyang and Moscow want from each other?

"We'll talk about all the issues, without haste. There is time," Putin said when asked by reporters whether military cooperation would be on the agenda.

Kim thanked Putin for inviting him to visit, despite the Russian leader's "busy schedule", having earlier stressed the trip -- his first post-pandemic foreign travel -- showed North Korea was "prioritising the strategic importance" of its Russia ties.

Kim, who travelled overland to Russia in his bullet-proof train, is accompanied by an entourage that suggested a strong military focus for the summit.

While Pyongyang's top leader was out of the country, North Korea fired two ballistic missiles on Wednesday, the South Korean military said, the latest in a string of sanctions-busting tests.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu -- who visited Pyongyang in July and has recently mooted bilateral joint naval drills -- will take part in the negotiations, Putin's press secretary Dmitry Peskov said, RIA Novosti and TASS reported.

Kim is accompanied by top military officials including Korean People's Army Marshal Pak Jong Chon and Munitions Industry Department Director Jo Chun Ryong, the North's state media said.

Tactical gains

The meeting at the cosmodrome is symbolic, especially as Pyongyang failed twice recently in its bid to put a military spy satellite into orbit, experts said.

Russia is eager for North Korea's stockpile of artillery shells, while Pyongyang is looking for help with satellite technology and upgrading its Soviet-era military equipment, An Chan-il, a defector-turned-researcher who runs the World Institute for North Korea Studies, told AFP.

"If North Korea's multiple rocket launchers and other artillery shells are provided to Russia in large quantities, it could have a significant impact on the war in Ukraine," he added.

Russia's natural resources minister Alexander Kozlov greeted Kim when he arrived in the country, giving him historic autographed photographs of Soviet cosmonauts, including Yuri Gagarin, Kozlov's ministry told TASS.

Russia and North Korea's communication is back on a pre-COVID track with dialogue "actively developing", foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told TASS.

The White House warned last week that North Korea would "pay a price" if it supplied Russia with weaponry for the conflict in Ukraine.

Kim is also risking the displeasure of his other major ally Beijing by meeting Putin, Vladimir Tikhonov, professor of Korean studies at the University of Oslo, told AFP.

"China will be hardly too happy about Russia entering into what Chinese consider their monopoly territory," he said, adding Beijing would be worried about the regional destabilisation impact of any transfer of Russian military technology to Pyongyang.

Kim and Putin "may conduct an exchange of North Korea's old-age, Soviet-type ammo for Russia's newer military tech or hard currency (or wheat).

"Tactically, they both gain, by getting what they need right now. In the longer term though, Russia's important ties to Seoul will be dealt irreparable damage."

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