Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin and leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) commonly known as North Korea Kim Jong Un met for the first time since 2019 in person last week in Russia.
After a four-year gap, both leaders met to cement their close relations on September 12 and 13. This time the summit meeting was held in the far eastern spaceport Vostochny, not far from the Chinese border. Putin also made use of this visit to address an Eastern Economic Forum.
The meeting of these two leaders took place at a crucial time. The two countries which have a small border share several common crises internally and externally. Both countries are isolated on the world stage, Russia for the Ukraine War and North Korea for its nuclear saber-rattling.
President Putin had to pass almost ten time zones all the way from Moscow to arrive at the remote destination for talks while the reclusive North Korean leader travelled by train for two days to cross the border.
The concluded summit and meetings between the two parties mainly focused on bilateral issues to challenge the growing sanctions against their countries.
President Putin attended the meeting while the war in Ukraine has reached a peak and Ukraine has made some gains including badly damaging a Russian submarine which had surfaced for repairs.
It is also just two months after an attempted coup by the mercenary Wagner group, whose Chief recently died in a plane crash. Moreover, Russian public opinion is sharply divided over the war, as the death toll mounts.
Both Russia and North Korea are isolated from the West on different issues and placed under UN sanctions. The impact of the sanctions is experienced by the citizens of both states.
North Korea is going through severe hardships both economically and politically. The closure of borders due to the Corona pandemic and a severe drought have sparked food shortages in the so-called hermit kingdom.
In fact, it was only two weeks ago that North Korea’s beleaguered national airline Air Koryo flew to neighbouring China after almost five years.
Impoverished North Korea is struggling to cope with increasing cases of malnutrition. Nevertheless, it has persisted with missile tests, two of which took place even while the leader was away in Russia.
While North Korea has probably sought food aid from Russia, Western observers say the latter is keen to get arms and ammunition from North Korea to bolster its “special operation” in Ukraine. Such a move will run afoul of UN sanctions placed on both countries.
This approach by the Putin administration is seen by the one-time Russian foreign minister Andrey Kozarev as being humiliating for Russia. According to Kozarev who currently resides in the United States, a superpower should not have approached an impoverished and isolated State for weapons.
President Putin made no secret of the fact that North Korea is looking for advanced satellite and rocket technology and that was one reason for the meeting to be arranged in a spaceport. The Kim Jung Un regime is struggling to get advanced technology to build up its space satellites systems, missiles and rockets.
According to Western intelligence reports, North Korea possesses a huge defence industry with large-scale production of ammo and artillery shells.
North Korea apparently has a huge stockpile of munitions and other conventional weapons as the country has not gone to war for a long time. Selling at least a part of this hoard will earn some cold hard cash for the hermit kingdom.
But any deals regarding military and arms violate the imposed UN sanctions and would be met with serious consequences, warned US National Security Adviser (NSA) Jake Sullivan. If the DPRK supplies weapons to Russia, the Western allies could potentially send more destructive weapons including F-16 jets to Ukraine.
North Korea has been launching missiles and rockets towards Japan and the region for sometime compelling Japan and South Korea to conduct military drills in the US. The fact that the North Korean leader visited a spaceport was an indication that he wants access to better space and missile technology. He was in fact given a guided tour of the facility by Putin himself.
He also visited some weapons manufacturing facilities including the Sukhoi fighter jet production facility in Amur. Both sides held high level meetings with the participation of the two leaders besides one to one meetings of the two leaders where only the two interpreters were allowed.
The Kremlin spokesperson Dimitry Peskov said follow up visits are due to take place by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and President Putin is likely to visit North Korea.
The North Korean delegation included the Defence Minister, chairman of the space technology committee and chiefs of the nuclear and missile programs.
Both leaders have sent a message to the world that despite the sanctions and isolation they can still challenge their enemies on the world stage. The North Korean leader pledged his support for President Putin on the Ukraine War and promised to support all decisions of the Russian leader against global imperialism with a veiled reference to both countries’ arch enemy Washington.
Though the details of the meetings are sketchy, it is believed that arms deals dominated the talks. Labourers
from North Korea are working in the Russian far east in the lumber industry. More cheap manpower could be sourced from North Korea for rebuilding the Russian occupied Ukrainian cities.
This would be another gesture by President Putin to conclude an arms deal.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Soigu hinted at the possibility of joint military exercises by China, Russia and North Korea in the region to counter Western military moves.
China, a traditional strong ally of North Korea, has not so far publicly expressed its views on Chairman Kim’s visit to Russia.
Having met the North Korean leader, President Putin flew off to receive another visiting ally, President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus in the resort of Sochi in southern Russia.