South Asia

Kim Jong Un arrives in Russia on an armoured bulletproof train to discuss weapons with Putin

The West is concerned that Putin and Kim will probably discuss weapons, but an ignored aspect of the meeting is the North Korean leader seeking food for his starving nation.

A private bulletproof train, aptly named ‘Taeyangho’, carrying North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has entered Russia, news agencies in Russia reported. Russian state-owned RIA Novosti reported on Tuesday that the train with dark green carriages was being pulled along the track by a Russian Railways locomotive and crossed into Primorsky, the eastern region of Russia from North Korea’s Pyongyang.

Kim’s train departed Pyongyang on Sunday, beginning its journey to Russia for a planned meeting with President Vladimir Putin, told a South Korean official. “Our Dearest Comrade Kim Jong Un will be visiting Russia upon invitation from Russian President Vladimir Putin. During the visit he will meet Putin and hold a summit,” a Korean news agency reported on Monday. South Korean officials said the train was expected to cover its 683 miles journey to Vladivostok in about 20 hours, a timeline that included a long stopover at the Russia-North Korea border, which is needed to switch to wheels that would fit the Russian railway tracks.

Kim was seen disembarking from his train in Khasan in the far-east Primorsky region where he was greeted by Russian Natural Resources minister Alexander Kozlov and the governor of the Russian region that borders his secretive state in a video of his arrival. The governor of Russia’s Primorsky region, Oleg Kozhemyako, published a video on Tuesday of Kim talking to Russian officials after crossing into Russia.

The Kremlin on Monday announced that Putin is currently in Vladivostok, which is around 200km from the North Korean border for the annual Eastern Economic Forum, where he gave an address touting Russia’s trade opportunities with countries in the Asia Pacific. The office said that the two leaders, often isolated by the world would meet in the coming days, but didn’t offer specific details of the timing or location of the summit. Although, the Russian media reported that Kim will be meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin later this week. One possible meeting point is the Vostochny Space Centre in Russia’s far-east region.

Kim Jong Un’s delegation likely includes his foreign minister, Choe Sun Hui, and his top two military officials, Korean People’s Army Marshals Ri Pyong Chol and Pak Jong Chon, said a separate report.

Kim Jong Un’s rare travels and the details of his ‘special train’

Kim has rarely left North Korea since he took power in 2011. His most recently documented international trips were in 2019, a year in which he stepped over the border to visit with then-US President Donald Trump and also travelled via train to Russia. This is the first time that Kim Jong Un has stepped outside North Korea in over four years since the COVID-19 pandemic.

But when the Korean dictator does travel, he prefers to do so via the rails in the heavy and slow-moving bullet-proof train, as his father and grandfather did when they were in power, reported a Korean news agency. The train – a bulletproof, armoured fortress – has been used by Kim II Sung, his grandfather and founding father of North Korea. He began travelling by them during the Korean War (1950-1953) and continued to do so throughout his rule. The classic train was also used by Kim Jong II, Un’s father to travel to Russia or China who preferred rail over air travel as he was afraid of flying. During Kim Jong II’s era, the train reportedly had luxurious bedrooms and high-tech communication. It served live lobsters as the train went through Siberia during his trips to Russia and fine wines like Bordeaux were flown in from Paris. For entertainment, there were beautiful ‘lady conductors’ who would sing in Korean and Russian. Moreover, the train also used to carry two armoured Mercedes to take Kim to and from the train.

What Russia and North Korea can demand from each other?

Russia desperately requires fresh supplies of ammunition and shells more than ever after over 18 months of the war in Ukraine has left its military battered. Meanwhile North Korea, which has faced many years of international sanctions over its nuclear weapons program, is short of everything starting right from hard cash and food to missile technology. The awaited meeting between the two leaders could even lead to North Korea getting its hands on the sort of weapons two decades’ worth of United Nations sanctions have barred it from accessing, especially for its deadly nuclear-capable ballistic missile program.

Putin will most likely ask Kim to help the Russian Army with artillery shells and anti-tank missiles, which should be available with Pyongyang, given that North Korea is modernising its military and enhancing its nuclear capabilities.

Kim Jong Un will seek advanced satellite and nuclear-powered submarine technology to help its banned nuclear and missiles programme in return but most importantly seek food aid for his impoverished nation. There have been several reports that parts of North Korea are witnessing starvation and as North Korean media is tightly controlled and foreign media is barred from entering the nation, it has become hard to assess the magnitude of the problem.

Russia recently became the top producer of grains and Kim will most likely persuade Putin to send food shipments so that he can control the issue of starvation in his country.

How the West sees this upcoming meet between the two leaders ?

U.S. officials said discussions have been “actively advancing” between the two countries about a possible plan for North Korea to supply weapons to Russia. The US has warned North Korea that they will pay a price if Moscow receives weapons shipments from Pyongyang.

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

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russia media that the two leaders would discuss “sensitive” subjects. “Obviously, as neighbours, our countries also cooperate in sensitive areas that should not be the subject of public disclosure and announcements. This is perfectly normal for neighbouring states,” Peskov was quoted as stating.

Peskov said that Putin and Kim are not paying heed to Washington’s warnings and ignoring the same. “In building our relations with our neighbours, including North Korea, the important thing for us is the interests of our two countries, not Washington’s warnings”, Peskov added.

As per the USA, Moscow wants to buy North Korean ammunition for the war in Ukraine. U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley describes Vladimir Putin with a “tin cup in hand” asking North Korea for munitions and thinks the weapons Russia may get won’t have much effect in Ukraine.

Please, also have a look into : Russian President Putin commends Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Make in India’ program

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