POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Armored train carrying Kim Jong Un at Russian border ahead of Putin meeting

Sep 12, 2023, 8:30 AM | Updated: 1:07 pm

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appears to be on a train heading to Russia, multiple South Korean m...

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appears to be on a train heading to Russia, multiple South Korean media outlets reported on September 11 citing government officials, for a potential meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo credit: KCNA/Reuters

(CNN) — Kim Jong Un’s heavily-armored private train has been geolocated at the Russian border ahead of an expected and closely-watched summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, amid warnings from the United States that the two leaders could strike an arms deal.

It comes as South Korea’s Defense Ministry said it believes the North Korean leader entered Russia early Tuesday morning local time.

A video shared by Russia Today on Monday and geolocated by CNN showed the train purportedly carrying Kim Jong Un near the Russian-North Korean border by the Tumen river.

The US government said last week that such a meeting, expected to take place in the far eastern Russian city of Vladivostok, could take place as part of Russia’s efforts to find new suppliers for weapons to use in its war against Ukraine.

South Korean Defense Ministry spokesperson Jeon Ha-kyu said Tuesday the ministry is closely monitoring whether North Korea and Russia will proceed with negotiations on an arms deal and technology transfer.

Russia desperately requires fresh supplies of ammunition and shells while North Korea, which has faced years of international sanctions over its nuclear weapons program, is short of everything from hard cash and food to missile technology.

The North Korean leader departed the capital, Pyongyang, on Sunday afternoon accompanied by top party officials and members of the government and armed forces, North Korean news agency KCNA reported Tuesday.

Images released by KCNA showed Kim walking down a red carpet at a Pyongyang station and boarding the green train surrounded by officials. A crowd of onlookers could be seen cheering in the background and waving flags.

Neither country has specified when or where the visit would take place, nor what would be on the agenda of any potential face-to-face. The Kremlin said in a statement Monday that Kim would pay an official visit to Russia “in the coming days,” while North Korean state media said they would “meet and have a talk.”

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said bilateral relations between the nations will be a priority of the meeting, which will be a “full-blown visit, with talks between the two delegations,” according to Russian state media TASS.

A formal dinner is also planned in honor of Kim’s arrival, Peskov said.

Putin reportedly arrived in Vladivostok on Monday to attend the Eastern Economic Forum, Peskov earlier said, according to state TV Russia 24. And the city is where Kim and Putin met for the first time in April 2019.

A rare trip for Kim

The visit will be Kim’s first foreign trip since the COVID-19 pandemic. With its borders sealed because of that for much of the past three years, North Korea has only recently begun to relax travel restrictions.

It will also be only Kim’s 10th trip since assuming power in 2011. All of those came in 2018 and 2019, as the North Korean leader engaged in negotiations over his nuclear weapons and missile programs in three meetings with then-US President Donald Trump – one in Singapore, one in Hanoi and one in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea.

Kim also made four trips to China over those two years to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. The remaining trip was to the DMZ in 2018 to meet with then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Vladivostok lies 130 km (80 miles) from the border with North Korea.

The North Korea leader is said to prefer traveling in an upscale armored train – as did his father before him – but rail travel accounts for less than half of his foreign trips. Three of this nine trips have been made in planes and two, both to the DMZ, by car.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also visited Pyongyang in July in an attempt to convince it to sell artillery ammunition.

Washington’s warning

Last Tuesday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned that North Korea it will “pay a price” if it strikes an arms deal with Russia, though he did not elaborate on these potential repercussions.

North Korea is already under United Nations and US sanctions imposed over Pyongyang’s weapons of mass destruction program.

The potential Putin-Kim meeting could lead to Pyongyang getting its hands on the sort of weapons those sanctions have barred it from accessing for two decades, especially for its nuclear-capable ballistic missile program.

It also comes after more than a year and a half of war in Ukraine has left the Russian military battered, depleted and in need of supplies.

Following Monday’s announcement from both countries, the White House urged North Korea to “not provide or sell arms to Russia.

“As we have warned publicly, arms discussions between Russia and the DPRK are expected to continue during Kim Jong-Un’s trip to Russia,” said National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson in response to Russia and North Korea’s announcement.

The statement also urged the country to “abide by the public commitments that Pyongyang has made to not provide or sell arms to Russia.”

After reports emerged of North Korean arms sales to Russia in September 2022, a North Korean Defense Ministry official said at the time that Pyongyang had “never exported weapons or ammunition to Russia before and we will not plan to export them.”

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Armored train carrying Kim Jong Un at Russian border ahead of Putin meeting