North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin met at a remote space launch site in Russia’s far east Wednesday, ahead of anticipated arms talks and just hours after North Korea launched two ballistic missiles into waters off the Korean Peninsula.
The face to face meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, is seen as a significant development, bringing together two leaders who are increasingly isolated on the world stage and coming amid Russia’s protracted and faltering war on Ukraine and crippling UN sanctions.
Video released by the Kremlin Wednesday showed the two leaders shaking hands while images show both the Russian and North Korean flags flying outside the cosmodrome building.
“Thank you for inviting us and welcoming us while your work is busy,” Kim could be heard saying to Putin, who had asked after his trip.
Kim arrived in Russia on Tuesday, state media reported, aboard his heavily-armored private train accompanied by party leaders, including a top military official in charge of the country’s ballistic missile programs, according to photos shared by North Korean state media.
During a stop at the border town Khasan Tuesday, where Kim was welcomed by Russian officials, the North Korean leader said his trip to Russia was a “clear manifestation” of North Korea “prioritizing the strategic importance” of Moscow-Pyongyang relations, state media reported.
As the two leaders were gearing up for the expected summit, North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles from the Sunan area between 11:43 a.m. and 11:53 a.m. local time, into the waters off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.
Analysts say it’s unusual for Pyongyang to conduct a launch while Kim is out of the country and could be “intended to show that the military maintains readiness with uninterrupted command and control,” according to Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
US officials have repeatedly warned that North Korean and Russia were “actively advancing” arms negotiations, which could lead to Pyongyang selling weapons to Russia in exchange for sanctioned ballistic missile technology.
Moscow in need of fresh supplies of ammunition and shells after more than 18 months of war in Ukraine has left its military battered, 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.
Space technology is also a priority for North Korea, which has repeatedly tried and failed to launch a spy satellite into orbit. Kim has also stressed the role of military satellites as a means to protect national safety and territorial stability and has spoken of their strategic value when deploying military force preemptively, KCNA said in April.
This is a developing story. More to come.