The North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, arrived in Russia on Tuesday where he will meet his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
The US has already warned that the meeting could lead to an arms agreement between the two countries, which could give Moscow’s attack on Ukraine further impetus.
Dmitri Peskov, spokesman for the Kremlin, says Kim will meet Putin later this week at an unspecified location in the far east of Russia.
Putin is currently attending the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, the city in eastern Russia closest to the North Korean border. However, there is no indication that the two leaders will hold their talks there.
Experts say Moscow is likely to request artillery ammunition and anti-tank missiles from North Korea. In return, Russia is expected to offer advanced satellite and nuclear-powered submarine technology.
The White House warned last week that North Korea “will pay a price” if it supplies Russia with weapons for the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Kim left North Korea for Russia on Sunday.
According to the state-run KCNA, he was accompanied by top North Korean military officials, including those in charge of weapons production and space technology. This includes Pak Jong Chon, secretary of the central committee of North Korea’s people’s army, and Jo Chun Ryong, director of that country’s arms industry.
This suggests that a Putin-Kim summit “is likely to focus heavily on Russia and North Korea’s possible military cooperation,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor of North Korean studies at a university in Seoul.
According to Peskov, the two leaders will “cooperate in sensitive areas that will not be made public”.
KCNA footage showed how Kim was seen off on a red carpet and by a guard of honor at the Pyongyang station at around 18:30 on Sunday before the trip to Russia.
Moscow sent Sergei Shoigu, its defense minister, to Pyongyang in July. He recently discussed bilateral joint naval exercises.
Kim has been unwavering in his support for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, including over the provision of rockets and missiles.
Moscow and Pyongyang have denied that North Korea has supplied or will supply weapons to Russia.
Kim has not set foot outside North Korea since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. His last overseas trip was in 2019, also to Russia to meet Putin.
‘Begging for help’
“North Korea has the ammunition that Putin needs for his war in Ukraine. This while Moscow has submarine, ballistic and satellite technology that can help Pyongyang with its engineering challenges that this country is experiencing due to economic sanctions,” says Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
The US said on Monday that “Putin is desperate to arrange a meeting with Kim”.
“To travel the length of his own country to meet an international counterpart to ask for assistance in a war, which he expected to win in the first month, I would say is begging for help,” said Matthew Miller, spokesman for the US State Department said.
“I would remind both countries that any transfer of weapons from North Korea to Russia would be in violation of various resolutions of the UN Security Council.”
Washington has said Russia could use weapons from North Korea to attack Ukrainian food supplies and heating infrastructure, especially with winter looming there.
Andrei Lankov, an expert on North Korea at Kookmin University in Seoul, said a Putin-Kim summit was part of Moscow’s “diplomatic blackmail” of Seoul because Russia did not want South Korea to supply arms to Kiev not.
Seoul is a major arms exporter and has sold tanks to Kiev’s ally, Poland, but long-standing domestic policy prevents the country from selling weapons in active conflicts.
“The biggest concern of the Russian government is now a possible shipment of the South Korean ammunition to Ukraine, not just one shipment, but numerous shipments,” says Lankov.