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The leaders of Russia and North Korea held a rare summit on Wednesday after North Korea’s Kim Jong Un traveled to a city in Russia’s Far East in his armored train.
Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Kim in person for the first time since 2019, and the two discussed topics including Russia’s war in Ukraine, space technology, and the potential for military cooperation between the two countries. The meeting took place at Vostochny Cosmodrome, which is the most important launch center in Russia, according to the Associated Press.
“Russia is currently engaged in a just fight against hegemonic forces to defend its sovereign rights, security and interests,” Kim said in an apparent reference to the Ukraine war. “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has always expressed its full and unconditional support for all measures taken by the Russian government, and I take this opportunity to reaffirm that we will always stand with Russia on the anti-imperialist front and the front of independence.”
BREAKING: Putin greets Kim Jong Un at cosmodrome in Russia’s far east
— Breaking911 (@Breaking911) September 13, 2023
At one point, Kim called Russia’s war a “sacred fight” that has his “full and unconditional support.” Putin also signaled his support for North Korea, describing how the Soviet Union was the first to recognize the North when it was established in 1948 and backed the country during the Korean War.
The two discussed the potential for military cooperation, with Putin saying that “there are certain restrictions, and Russia complies with all these restrictions,” while adding that there are possibilities for cooperation between the two in that realm. “There are things that we can of course talk about, discuss, think about it. And here too there are prospects,” Putin said.
Prior to the summit, numerous reports suggested Putin was seeking to get ammunition and weapons for the war in Ukraine. For his part, Kim was likely to request food and missile technology, according to the AP. Relatively few details were disclosed regarding military cooperation and aid agreements, and according to the Kremlin, sensitive discussions between the two will remain private. The White House has previously warned that such arms deals would violate United Nations Security Council resolutions; Russia is one of five permanent members of the Council.
Putin also appeared to say he was open to helping Kim and North Korea advance its space program. He said the North Korean dictator has a “great interest in space, in rocketry” and that Russia would “show our new objects. We’ll talk about all the issues without haste, there is time.” The Hermit Kingdom has failed twice this year alone in launching a space satellite – once in May, and again in August – despite prioritizing space technology, according to CNN.
The location of the summit – a prominent Russian spaceport – is significant, according to Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. He says the site location is “provocative because it suggests that Putin may offer sanctions-violating satellite launch technology in exchange for North Korean munitions that Moscow would employ in its illegal war in Ukraine.”
U.S. State Department head of the Office of Sanctions Coordination James O’Brien blasted the summit, saying, “Russia is now overtly engaging with a country that the U.N. has sanctioned. And that’s very problematic for Russia’s global position.”
According to former National Security Adviser John Bolton, North Korea had much to gain from the meeting: “From North Korea’s point of view, this gets them back into really significant contact with Russia for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union.” Bolton also said the meeting “goes well beyond a potential arms deal.”
Shortly before the summit, North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles toward its eastern seas – a rarity while Kim is out of the country.