Kim Jong Un meets Putin in Russia as missiles launch from North Korea

By Reuters   September 13, 2023 | 02:41 am PT
Kim Jong Un meets Putin in Russia as missiles launch from North Korea
Russia's President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un during a meeting at the Vostochny Сosmodrome in the far eastern Amur region, Russia, September 13, 2023. Photo by Sputnik/Vladimir Smirnov via Reuters
President Vladimir Putin said Russia would help North Korea launch satellites and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Moscow had his full backing in its "sacred fight" with the West as they met on Wednesday at a cosmodrome in Russia's Far East.

They would discuss "all issues", Putin said when asked if the two leaders would talk about getting supplies from the North to replenish Moscow's dwindling stock of weapons and ammunition at the summit at the Vostochny Cosmodrome space station.

"That's why we came here," Putin said when reporters asked whether Russia would help Kim build satellites. "The leader of the DPRK shows great interest in rocket engineering; they are also trying to develop space."

DPRK is short for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's formal name.

At the opening of the meeting with Putin at the gleaming new space station, Kim said it was North Korea's unwavering position to further develop its traditional friendship and ties with Russia.

"I find it an honour that the president has prepared an opportunity to meet at a special environment at the launch station which is the heart of your position as a space superpower and given us a deep understanding of the way forward," Kim said.

Kim also told Putin the Kremlin chief had his full backing in the "sacred fight" Moscow is waging "against the hegemonic forces".

"We will always support the decisions of President Putin and the Russian leadership... and we will be together in the fight against imperialism," Kim told Putin, speaking via an interpreter.

The summit between the leaders of the two countries, which have become increasingly isolated internationally, is being watched closely by Washington and allies, who suspect they could agree to trade arms and defence technology.

U.S. and South Korean officials have expressed concern that Kim would 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.

The choice to meet at Vostochny Cosmodrome - a symbol of Russia's ambitions as a space power - was notable, as North Korea twice failed to launch reconnaissance satellites in the past four months.

"I am glad to see you," Putin said earlier as he welcomed Kim at Vostochny Cosmodrome, a modern space launch facility in the Amur region of Russia's Far East. "This is our new cosmodrome."

Kim has made it a top priority to launch a spy satellite, while pushing his nuclear-armed country to step up the development of ballistic missiles, drones and attack submarines.

Ahead of his meeting with Putin, Kim signed the visitor book in Korean: "The glory to Russia, which gave birth to the first space conquerors, will be immortal."

Television footage showed Putin giving Kim a tour of the facility including the building where the Angara, Russia's new space launch rocket, is assembled. The 42.7-metre booster launches payloads into low Earth orbit.

Ballistic missiles launched in Kim's absence

Shortly before the summit, North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles from an area near the capital, Pyongyang, into the sea off its east coast.

It was the first such launch by the North while Kim was abroad, analysts said, demonstrating an increased level of delegation and more refined control systems for the country's nuclear and missile programmes.

Kim had made just seven trips abroad in his 12 years in power, all in 2018 and 2019. He also briefly stepped across the inter-Korean border twice.

After the summit, Putin and Kim had lunch on crab dumplings, sturgeon and beef with Russian wine, where Kim proposed a toast to Putin's health and said he was confident the Russian army and people would triumph against "evil".

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the two countries cooperate in "sensitive" areas, including military cooperation but it is not targeted at other countries and they should not be concerned about Russia's ties with North Korea.

Kim arrived in Russia by private train on Tuesday with top defence industry and military aides and said his visit highlighted the "strategic importance" of the two countries' ties, the North's state news agency KCNA reported on Wednesday.

The make-up of Kim's delegation, with the notable presence of Munitions Industry Department Director Jo Chun Ryong, suggested an agenda heavy on defence industry cooperation, analysts said.

Kim could offer artillery rounds from North Korea's large stockpile, which could replenish Russia's capabilities in the short term, but questions about the ammunition's quality may limit the overall impact, military analysts said.

South Korea and the United States have warned such a deal would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions, which Russia as a permanent member of the council voted to approve.

North Korea is one of the few countries to have openly supported Russia over the Ukraine conflict, and Putin pledged last week to "expand bilateral ties in all respects in a planned way by pooling efforts".

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