SEOUL: Russian President Vladimir Putin has gifted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a Russian-made car, Pyongyang’s state media said Tuesday, as the two countries bolster ties in areas from tourism to defence.

The gift would violate successive rounds of UN sanctions on the North over Kim’s nuclear and other weapons programmes — which were passed with Russian approval — that ban the import of any vehicles or luxury goods into the country.

Kim was “presented with a car made in Russia for his personal use by Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, president of the Russian Federation”, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency reported.

Kim’s powerful sister, Yo Jong, said the “gift serves as a clear demonstration of the special personal relations between the top leaders” of the two countries, KCNA added. The report did not specify the vehicle’s model.

Since Kim visited Putin last year, Pyongyang has been drawing ever closer to Moscow, with a group of Russian tourists arriving earlier this month for a four-day trip — the first known foreign tour group since before pandemic-linked border closures in 2020.

After September’s Kim-Putin summit in Russia’s Far East, the United States and South Korea repeatedly claimed the North had shipped weapons to Moscow for use in its war with Ukraine, in exchange for Russian help with Kim’s satellite programmes.

The Russian leader is now set to pay a return visit to Pyongyang, both sides have indicated. Kim is renowned for his affinity for lavish automobiles. He has been spotted using luxury cars, including Lexus SUVs and Mercedes-Benz S-Class models.

A 2021 UN report highlighted an attempted shipment of more than $1 million worth of luxury vehicles, including such models, allegedly from the United Arab Emirates to Ningbo, China, for onward delivery to the North.

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2024

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