MOSCOW: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un left Russia on Sunday after a rare six-day visit that appeared to solidify his country’s ties with President Vladimir Putin — fanning Western fears that Pyongyang could provide Moscow with weapons for its assault on Ukraine.

Kim’s tour of Russia’s far eastern region, which began on Tuesday, has focused intensely on military cooperation, including a symbolic exchange of rifles with Putin and an inspection of state-of-the-art Russian weapons.

Kim’s first official visit abroad since the coronavirus pandemic has sparked concerns that Moscow and Pyongyang will defy Western sanctions to secure an arms deal that could help the Kremlin continue its assault against Ukraine.

Before departing Vladivostok, the Far East Russian city just over the border with North Korea, Kim was presented with five explosive drones, a reconnaissance drone and a bulletproof vest as gifts from the governor of the Primorye region, which borders China and North Korea. He also visited the Far Eastern State University and appeared particularly pleased as he watched a walrus show at a local oceanarium.

Summing up the North Korean leader’s visit, Russian Natural Resources Minister Alexander Kozlov, who accompanied him on his last day, said “a lot” had been discussed. “Kim Jong Un was very interested in and paid attention to minute details,” Kozlov said.

He made no mention of any agreements concerning military matters, but said the two sides discussed increasing supplies of grain and the resumption of regular air travel. The two countries also discussed reviving long-muted infrastructure projects, he said. Government officials from the two countries also agreed to meet in Pyongyang in November, Kozlov added.

At the end of Kim’s visit, official Russian video footage showed him waving goodbye from his heavily armoured train to a Russian delegation, before the Russian march “Farewell of Slavianka” was played as the train departed.

Russia and North Korea, historic allies, are both under rafts of global sanctions — Moscow for its Ukraine offensive, Pyongyang for its nuclear weapon tests.

On Saturday, Kim met Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in Vladivostok, where he inspected state-of-the-art weapons including a hypersonic missile system.

The pair were seen smiling as they inspected some of Russia’s nuclear bombers at an airfield before boarding a warship.

On Wednesday, Putin and Kim held talks at Russia’s new Vostochny cosmodrome, roughly 8,000 kilometres from Moscow.

After the meeting Putin talked up the prospect of greater cooperation with North Korea and the “possibilities” for military ties.

Moscow is believed to be interested in buying North Korean ammunition to continue fighting in Ukraine, while Pyongyang wants Russia’s help to develop its internationally condemned missile programme. The Kremlin has said no agreement has or will be signed.

North Korean news agency KCNA has described Kim’s visit as “fervent and warm” and said a “new era of friendship, solidarity and cooperation” was opening between North Korea and Russia.

Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2023

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