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Putin and Kim Jong-un Meet in North Korea

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ​met with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, in his first visit to the country in nearly a quarter-century on​ Wednesday, as the two autocrats vowed to build a joint front against ​the United States and ​deepen bilateral ties that Washington fears will include more arms trade.

Mr. Putin is the first major head of state to visit North Korea since the pandemic, highlighting ​its importance to Russia: It is one of the few​ like-minded countries able and willing to supply Moscow with badly needed conventional weapons for its war in Ukraine.

Mr. Kim gave Mr. Putin a red-carpet welcome early Wednesday in Pyongyang, the North’s capital. His energy-starved government flooded downtown Pyongyang with bright lights as the two leaders were driven in the same car — the Russian-made Aurus limousine that Mr. Putin gave Mr. Kim last year — to the state guesthouse​.

Despite sweltering heat, huge crowds were mobilized to a welcoming ceremony​ for Mr. Putin in the ​main square of Pyongyang later Wednesday, complete with goose-stepping honor guards and colorful balloons released into the air​. The crowds waved paper flowers and the national flags of the two nations as Mr. Putin arrived.

Mr. Putin’s war in Ukraine has brought the two leaders closer than ever. They were expected to hold bilateral talks for most of Wednesday, according to Russian state media, before Mr. Putin moves on to Vietnam.

As negotiations began, Mr. Putin touted a new strategic partnership document that the two leaders had signed at the summit.

“We greatly appreciate your consistent and unwavering support for Russian policy, including with regard to Ukraine, in light of our fight against the imperial policy the United States has pursued over decades in relation to the Russian Federation,” Mr. Putin told the North Korean leader.

Mr. Putin, who last visited North Korea shortly after becoming president in 2000, noted the changes in the capital over the intervening years and said the city had become beautiful under Mr. Kim’s leadership. He expressed hope that the next meeting between the two leaders would take place in the Russian capital.

In his remarks, Mr. Kim underscored what he called Russia’s role in supporting strategic stability and balance in the world, according to reports in Russian state media. The North Korean leader reiterated his support for Russian operations in Ukraine, cheering a new era of prosperity in relations between Moscow and Pyongyang, the state news reports said.

The two leaders then entered closed-door talks for about two hours.

Later on Wednesday, Mr. Putin was scheduled to visit the only Russian Orthodox Church in North Korea, built in the mid-2000s.

Russian state media released footage of mass celebrations that North Korean authorities had organized, as they honored Mr. Putin with Soviet-era military parades and rallies. Portraits of the Russian leader adorned buildings and streets across Pyongyang. Throngs of people cheered from the roadside as Mr. Putin was chauffeured through the capital.

“I don’t know any other country where a person breathes so freely,” Pavel Zarubin, a Russian state TV correspondent known for his fawning coverage of Mr. Putin, said in a video posted on Telegram from Kim Il-sung Square.

Mr. Putin has received artillery shells and missiles from North Korea to help fuel his drawn-out war in Ukraine, according to American and South Korean officials, though both Russia and the North have denied any arms transfers. He is widely expected to seek more of them on this trip. ​For his part, Mr. Kim ​covets Russian ​help in easing his country’s oil shortages, improving its weapons systems and undermining Washington’s ​attempts to strangle its economy with international sanctions.

The Putin-Kim alliance has alarmed Washington and its allies, particularly South Korea, because it threatens to undermine their efforts to curb North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. It also presents a threat to the global push for the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons. Moscow once joined the United States in imposing United Nations sanctions on countries like North Korea and Iran over their nuclear programs, but those days seem to be over.

“I don’t think he’ll ever sign up to that again,” said Michael A. McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia and the director of Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, referring to Mr. Putin. “I think he’s decided we’re the enemy, the liberal international order that the United States anchors is over, and he wants to see its destruction.”

Weeks before Mr. Putin’s trip, Moscow used its veto power at the U.N. Security Council to disband a panel of U.N. experts that helped to enforce sanctions aimed at making it more difficult for North Korea to develop its nuclear arsenal.

In a column published in Rodong Sinmun, the North’s main state-run newspaper, on the eve of his arrival, Mr. Putin denounced the United States’ “worldwide neocolonialist dictatorship” and lauded Mr. Kim for resisting “the U.S. economic pressure, provocation, blackmail and military threats.”

North Korea’s economy has been devastated by sanctions, and Mr. Kim is intent on capitalizing on the partnership with Mr. Putin. The North’s official Korean Central News Agency on Wednesday called the deepening ties between the two leaders “an engine for accelerating the building of a new multipolar world.” Rodong said the two nations were “in the same trench” in the struggle against Washington and its allies.

Mr. Putin’s visit to North Korea “demonstrates that our security is not regional. It’s global,” NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said in Washington on Tuesday at a joint news conference with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.

“What happens in Europe matters for Asia, and what happens in Asia matters for us,” Mr. Stoltenberg said. “This is clearly demonstrated in Ukraine, where Iran, North Korea, China are propping up, fueling Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.”

Analysts were closely watching to see how much — and what types of — military and economic support Mr. Kim might get from Mr. Putin.

“He’s not just going to give away all the things that Putin wants for nothing, and I worry that this will be the beginning of military assistance that will lead to, you know, a modernization of” North Korea’s weapons systems, such as launch vehicles for nuclear weapons, Mr. McFaul said. “I fear that now all bets could be off, and this is one area where Russia has real capabilities that could make the North Korean military-industrial complex stronger.”

North Korea’s military has long been ridiculed for its backward technologies and vast stockpile of outdated Soviet-era weaponry, such as artillery shells. But the fact that Mr. Putin was visiting Pyongyang for the first time in 24 years demonstrated how such old-fashioned munitions are among those that Russia most desperately needs in its war of attrition in Ukraine.

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Nathan is an experienced journalist. He's covered a broad spectrum of topics, including politics, culture, and human interest stories, always aiming to engage and inform his audience. Nathan has a degree in Journalism and upholds the highest standards of integrity and accuracy in his work.

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