North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will visit Russia, setting the stage for a meeting with Putin – sister cities

By KIM TONG-HYUNG (Associated Press)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will visit Russia, both countries said Monday. He is expected to hold a highly anticipated meeting with President Vladimir Putin, which has raised concerns in the West about a possible arms deal for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

A brief statement on the Kremlin’s website said the visit was at Putin’s invitation and would take place “in the coming days.” This was also reported by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, which said the leaders would meet – without specifying a time or location.

“Dear Comrade Kim Jong Un will meet and hold discussions with Comrade Putin during the visit,” it said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin and Kim could lead their delegations in talks and also meet “in person” if necessary.

One possible venue is the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok, where Putin arrived on Monday to attend an international forum that runs until Wednesday, according to the Russian news agency TASS. The city is about 425 miles (680 kilometers) north of Pyongyang and was also the site of Putin’s first meeting with Kim in 2019.

The visit would be Kim’s first trip abroad since the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced North Korea to enforce strict border controls for more than three years to protect its poor health system. While Kim has shown he is more comfortable with airplanes than his notoriously anti-flying father, he has also used his personal streak for previous meetings with Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and former U.S. President Donald Trump, making him a symbol revived by his family’s dynastic rule.

Associated Press journalists saw a green train with yellow trim – similar to the one the reclusive Kim had used on previous trips abroad – near the North Korea-Russia border at a train station on the North Korean side of a border river.

It was unclear whether Kim was on the train traveling back and forth between the station and the entrance to the bridge connecting the countries. It had not yet crossed the bridge as of 7 p.m. (1000 GMT).

Citing unidentified South Korean government sources, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that the train likely left the North Korean capital Pyongyang on Sunday evening and that a meeting between Kim and Putin was possible as early as Tuesday.

Yonhap News Agency and some other media outlets published similar reports. Japan’s Kyodo news agency quoted Russian officials as saying Kim may be heading to Russia on his personal train.

South Korea’s presidential office, defense ministry and national intelligence agency did not immediately confirm these details.

U.S. officials released information last week that North Korea and Russia are arranging a meeting between their leaders to take place later this month as they expand cooperation amid intensifying confrontations with the United States.

U.S. officials say Putin could focus on securing more supplies of North Korean artillery and other munitions to replenish dwindling reserves, defuse a Ukrainian counteroffensive and show he is capable of ending a long war of attrition . That could potentially increase pressure on the United States and its partners to continue negotiations as concerns grow about a protracted conflict, even though they have delivered large quantities of advanced weapons to Ukraine over the past 17 months.

North Korea may have tens of millions of Soviet-style artillery shells and rockets that could potentially provide a huge boost to the Russian army, analysts say.

In return, Kim could receive much-needed energy and food aid as well as advanced weapons technologies, including those related to intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarines and military reconnaissance satellites, analysts say.

There are concerns that potential Russian technology transfers would increase the threat posed by Kim’s growing arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles targeting the United States, South Korea and Japan.

After decades of a complicated, heated relationship, Russia and North Korea have been moving closer since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The connection has been driven by Putin’s need for war aid and Kim’s efforts to increase the visibility of that aid, partnering with traditional allies Moscow and Beijing as he seeks to break out of diplomatic isolation and make North Korea part of a united front against Washington.

While North Korea used the distraction caused by the Ukraine conflict to advance its weapons development, it repeatedly blamed Washington for the crisis in Ukraine and claimed that the West’s “hegemonic policies” justified a Russian offensive in Ukraine to its own advantage protect.

North Korea is the only country, along with Russia and Syria, to recognize the independence of two Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine – Donetsk and Luhansk – and has also indicated interest in sending construction workers to those areas to help with reconstruction.

Russia – along with China – has blocked U.S.-led efforts at the U.N. Security Council to tighten sanctions on North Korea over its stepped-up missile tests, while accusing Washington of increasing tensions with Pyongyang by expanding military exercises with South Korea and Japan aggravate.

The United States has accused North Korea since last year of supplying Russia with weapons, including artillery shells sold to the Russian mercenary group Wagner. Both Russian and North Korean officials denied such claims. But speculation about the countries’ military cooperation grew after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made a rare visit to North Korea in July, when Kim invited him to a weapons exhibition and a major military parade in the capital, where he unveiled intercontinental ballistic missiles aimed at the US should target mainland.

Following that visit, Kim toured North Korea’s weapons factories, including a plant producing artillery systems, where he urged workers to speed up the development and mass production of new types of ammunition. Experts say Kim’s visits to the factories likely served a dual purpose: promoting the modernization of North Korea’s weapons and examining artillery and other supplies that could potentially be exported to Russia.

Jon Finer, U.S. President Joe Biden’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters on Sunday that buying weapons from North Korea “may be the best and possibly the only option” open to Moscow as it seeks to continue its war effort.

“We have serious concerns about the prospect of North Korea potentially selling weapons, additional weapons, to the Russian military. “It’s interesting to think for a minute about what it means: When Russia travels around the world looking for partners that can help them, they end up in North Korea,” Finer said aboard a plane that carried Biden from India to Vietnam .

Some analysts say a potential meeting between Kim and Putin would be more about symbolic gains than substantive military cooperation.

Russia, which has always closely guarded its key weapons technologies, even from key allies such as China, may be unwilling to undertake major technology transfers with North Korea for the likely limited war supplies transported via a small rail link between the countries, they say. ___

Associated Press writers Jim Heintz in Tallinn, Estonia, and Dake Kang and Ng Han Guan in Fangchuan, China, contributed. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will visit Russia, setting the stage for a meeting with Putin – sister cities

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