13 September 2023 • 9:36pm
The leaders of the two nuclear-armed states, isolated by the West, smiled and toasted one another on Wednesday as they held a first meeting since 2019 at the Kremlin’s space rocket launch site in the Russian Far East.
“We have always supported and always will support all decisions of President Putin,” Kim said during a brief photo-op. “I hope that we will always be together in the struggle against imperialism.”
US and South Korean officials have expressed concern that Kim could provide weapons and ammunition to Russia, which has expended vast stocks in more than 18 months of war in Ukraine, in exchange for satellite and nuclear submarine technology.
Moscow and Pyongyang have denied such intentions.
There were no official announcements of an arms deal on Wednesday, although Kim was expected to tour an arms factory in Komsomolsk-on-Amur on Thursday and then inspect Russia’s Pacific fleet in Vladivostok.
Kim’s summit with Putin, his first overseas trip since the Covid-19 pandemic, lasted several hours and underscored how the two countries’ interests are increasingly aligning.
Defence ministers from both North Korea and Russia were present during the pair’s talks, which took place after Putin gave Kim a tour of the Vostochny Cosmodrome.
The discussions were followed by an opulent meal that included Russian dumplings filled with Kamchatka crab, white amur fish soup and sea buckthorn sorbet, paired with Russian red and white wine.
Kim raised a toast with a glass of Russian wine to Putin’s health, to the victory of “great Russia” and to Korean-Russian friendship, predicting victory for Moscow in its “sacred fight” with the West in the Ukraine war.
“I firmly believe that the heroic Russian army and people will brilliantly inherit their victories and traditions and vigorously demonstrate their noble dignity and honour on the two fronts of military operations and building a powerful nation,” Kim said.
“The Russian army and people will certainly win a great victory in the sacred struggle for the punishment of a great evil that claims hegemony and feeds an expansionist illusion,” he added, raising his glass.
Putin, for his part, gave numerous hints that military cooperation was discussed but disclosed few details.
Offering his own toast, the Russian leader said he looked forward to the “future strengthening of cooperation and friendship between our countries”.
“In Korea, there is a proverb: good clothes are those that are new, but old friends are best friends. And our people say: an old friend is better than two new ones,” Putin told Kim.
Security was tight throughout Wednesday’s meeting. A video leaked online showed North Korean agents vigorously wiping down Kim’s chair ahead of a joint photo-op. They also appeared to scan it for any radiation poisoning.
Putin had earlier greeted Kim with a 40-second handshake on the steps of the cosmodrome as dozens of suited North Korean and Russian bodyguards looked on.
“It’s good to see you. Thank you for coming,” Putin told Kim.
Western commentators said that the alliance with North Korea was pushing it further into a Cold War-style confrontation with the West and Nato.
Sergey Radachenko, a Cold War historian, said that relations between Russia and North Korea were now at their strongest since 1956, three years after the end of the Korean War.
“What we are seeing here is the emergence of a de facto alliance between Pyongyang and Moscow,” he said. “[It is] worth remembering that today’s relationship is one between two nuclear-armed powers. [This] creates a different dynamic.”
‘Glory to Russia will be immortal’
After 18 months of war in Ukraine, Russia is short of ammunition and international friends. To support its war effort the Kremlin has not only strengthened ties with North Korea but also with China and Iran.
In exchange for artillery shells and other ammunition, analysts have said that Kim will expect access to Russian satellite technology, food aid and potentially a joint space programme.
Kim is keen on the propaganda boost that a successful space programme would give him but his sanctions-hit regime has struggled to launch satellites to date.
During his tour of the cosmodrome, Kim wrote in the visitors’ book: “The glory to Russia, which gave birth to the first space conquerors, will be immortal.”
Russia had carefully planned the visit to the cosmodrome to impress Kim. Officials were seen cheerfully showing Kim around the facility’s launch site, diligently answering his questions and pointing out new technology.
Last month, to much fanfare, the Kremlin launched its first mission to the moon since 1976 from the cosmodrome. The Russian space capsule was supposed to land on the moon and then explore for water but instead, it spiralled out of control and crashed into its surface.
Russia ‘suffering significant losses’ in Donetsk
Kyiv says it has seen “partial success” south of Bakhmut and inflicted “significant losses” on Russian forces.
A spokesman for the general staff said: “[Troops] had partial success in the Klishchiivka area of the Donetsk region, inflicting significant losses on the enemy in manpower and equipment.”
Ukraine is also said to be holding back an attempted counteroffensive by Russia northwest of Bakhmut.