Kim Jong Un Concludes Russia Trip Amid Weapons Transfer Concerns
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un departed Russia on Sunday aboard his armored train, concluding his week-long visit that triggered worries about prohibited weapons deals between the two isolated nations facing Western pressures.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un departed Russia on Sunday aboard his armored train, concluding his week-long visit that triggered worries about prohibited weapons deals between the two isolated nations facing Western pressures. Kim's trip, his first overseas since 2011, saw him meet President Vladimir Putin and visit military sites, signaling deepened Russia-North Korea defense ties.
Kim's train left the Russian city of Artyom near the North Korean border after a farewell ceremony. Senior officials including Russia's Minister of Natural Resources and the Primorye governor attended, underscoring burgeoning regional cooperation. Kim's longest foreign excursion is expected to end with his arrival back in Pyongyang around Monday.
Since arriving last Tuesday, Kim toured facilities and technology in areas like aviation, space and nuclear research, highlighting enhanced military cooperation with Moscow amid their separate standoffs with the US-led West. Analysts believe sanctions-hit Russia could obtain stockpiles of aging North Korean artillery munitions to assist its campaign in Ukraine. In return, North Korea seeks advanced Russian weapons technology to boost its nuclear and missile programs.
UN Bans North Korean Arms Exports and Imports
However, UN resolutions prohibit North Korea from exporting or importing any armaments. Russia's alleged attempts to receive ammunition from Pyongyang reveal its desperation to replenish depleted forces in Ukraine. South Korea's President condemned any military cooperation between North Korea and Russia as illegal under UN sanctions.
In exchange for old artillery and rockets, North Korea wants Russian assistance with building sophisticated missiles, nuclear submarines and reconnaissance satellites. Despite accuracy issues with outdated North Korean artillery, Russia needs vast volumes of ammunition for barrages in Ukraine. North Korea also covets Russian expertise to advance prohibited strategic weaponscapabilities and circumvent sanctions.
Kim Tours Russian Facilities and Builds Regional Ties
Earlier on Sunday, Kim visited a university and watched a walrus show at an aquarium on Russky Island. He was seen happily viewing performances with beluga whales and dolphins. The Primorye governor said a Russian delegation will soon visit North Korea to boost trade, tourism and agricultural ties.
On Saturday, Kim saw Russia's Tu-160, Tu-95 and Tu-22 strategic bombers and other warplanes at an airbase. He inspected the Admiral Shaposhnikov frigate with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who also updated Kim on new Russian cruise missiles. The bombers and missiles showcased have been extensively used against Ukraine.
During Kim's meeting with Putin on Thursday, he toured the Vostochny space launch site. This signaled interest in Russian help for North Korea's satellite program, amid two recent failed launches. At the summit, Kim offered North Korea's "full support" for Russia's security interests, alluding to Ukraine. The leaders invited each other to visit their capitals.
Russia Seeks North Korean Arms To Offset Ukraine Losses
Key factors driving Russia's outreach:
Offset critical ammunition and equipment shortages
Gain useful missiles and nuclear technology
Divert US intelligence resources from Ukraine
Apply pressure on US alliances in Asia
Leverage historical ties dating to the Soviet-era
Expand sanctions-hit trade and economic links
Potential Benefits for North Korea
In return, Russia could provide North Korea:
Advanced aircraft, missile and naval technology
Materials and expertise to advance nuclear and missile programs
Training for pilots and technical personnel
Cyber warfare capabilities
Sanctions circumvention to access restricted technology
Energy infrastructure and food exports
Worries for the United States and Regional Stability
But deeper Russia-North Korea collaboration poses many risks:
Accelerating development of North Korean strategic weapons
Undermining sanctions via Russian aid
Proliferation of nuclear and missile technology
Weakening of US alliances with South Korea and Japan
Complicating efforts to denuclearize North Korea
Expanding Russian influence over North Korea
Potential future deployment of Russian military assets
To address these concerns, the US and allies will likely seek to strengthen deterrence, restrict sensitive technology exports, ensure sanctions enforcement and promote North Korean denuclearization.
The Russia-North Korea alignment has worrying implications but remains limited by divergent strategic interests. Managing spill-over risks will require coordinated diplomacy.
But with both nations highly isolated, incentives for cooperation currently outweigh constraints. Kim's Russian sojourn reflected this deepening, even if uneasy, embrace born of shared adversity.