SEOUL — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un continued his days-long trip to Russia Friday, visiting an aircraft plant in the eastern city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, according to Russian state media, after the two sides said military cooperation was a possibility.
The facility is the country’s largest aviation manufacturing plant and builds and develops warplanes for the Ministry of Defense, including the Su-35S and Su-57 fighter jets, state media TASS reported. Kim’s late father, Kim Jong Il, also visited the plant in 2002.
Images showed Kim and his delegation at the Yuri Gagarin Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Plant (KnAAZ), which is named after the famed Russian cosmonaut, and being shown the inside of a fighter jet, according to Russian state media RIA Novosti.
Accompanying Kim on the tour was the city’s mayor, Alexander Zhornik, and the Khabarovsk Region Governor Mikhail Degtyarev.
The North Korean leader is also expected to travel to the port city of Vladivostok where he will view the military capabilities of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, Russian President Vladimir Putin told state news agency Russia 1.
The tour of key sites in the Russian Far East region came after Putin said Russia is considering and discussing some military cooperation with North Korea, following a summit at which Kim appeared to endorse Moscow’s war on Ukraine.
Wednesday’s five-hour meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome signaled closer relations between the two countries, both of which face international isolation – Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine and Pyongyang for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.
The Kremlin said Thursday that Putin had accepted Kim’s invitation to visit North Korea and that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov would also visit the country in October, according to spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Asked if the two leaders discussed military and technical cooperation during the talks, Peskov said it was a “sensitive sphere of cooperation” and reiterated Moscow’s commitment to further developing ties with Pyongyang.
Efforts to showcase that closer relationship were on full display during the summit. Putin presented Kim with a space suit glove that had gone into space and a high-quality domestically manufactured carbine – a type of rifle – while Kim also offered Putin a carbine crafted by North Korean artisans, according to Peskov.
At a state banquet with Putin Wednesday, Kim vowed to establish “a new era of 100-year friendship” between the two countries.
In the weeks before the summit, US officials warned that Russia and North Korea were “actively advancing” in a potential arms deal that could see Pyongyang provide weapons for Moscow to use in its faltering Ukraine war in exchange for sanctioned ballistic missile technology.
Putin was asked if he discussed military-technical cooperation with Kim during the leaders’ meeting. In response, Putin acknowledged there were certain restrictions in place, saying Moscow fully complied with them. But he also said there were areas open for discussion and consideration, suggesting potential points of cooperation.
Kim said before a toast at the state dinner with Putin that he is “certain that the Russian people and its military will emerge victorious in the fight to punish the evil forces that ambitiously pursue hegemony and expansion.”
Without naming Ukraine, Kim said the “Russian military and its people will inherit the shining tradition of victory” and demonstrate their reputation on the front line of “military operation,” the euphemistic phrasing Moscow uses to describe its illegal invasion of Ukraine.
“I will always be standing with Russia,” Kim said, praising Moscow for having “stood up against the hegemonic forces” to defend its sovereignty and security, a veiled reference to the United States and the West.
In return, Putin signaled a willingness to assist North Korea in developing its space and satellite program.
On Thursday, a Ukrainian presidential adviser called the talks “a manifestation of incapacity” and said Ukraine was “taking the actions of Moscow and Pyongyang very seriously and making its own calculations.”
“Moscow’s need to beg for help from North Korea is certainly a reason for jokes, a manifestation of Russia’s incapacity, and a verdict on Putin’s 23-year policy,” said Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the Head of the Ukrainian Presidential Office on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence said Wednesday that military cooperation between Russia and North Korea was not new. Russian requests for projectiles for artillery and MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket Systems) are already known to Ukrainian authorities, Andrii Yusov, representative of the Defense Intelligence, said in an interview with Ukrainian state media.
“We can’t neglect this. This is an important factor that will be felt, unfortunately on the battlefield, but this is not news in this situation. This is a scenario, the reaction to which Ukraine is working on,” Yusov reportedly said.
When asked in a background briefing whether North Korea’s rockets were being supplied to Moscow, an official from South Korea’s presidential office said, “We have long confirmed that weapons provided by North Korea were used by Russia in the Ukraine battlefield.”
The Biden administration believes North Korea delivered infantry rockets and missiles for use in Ukraine by Russian mercenary force Wagner last year.
Meanwhile, the national security advisers of the United States, South Korea, and Japan on Thursday jointly issued a warning regarding potential violations of international sanctions by North Korea and Russia.
According to a statement released by South Korea’s presidential office, the three nations said there would be would be “clear consequences” if either country were to breach their obligations under the United Nations Security Council resolutions and sanctions, particularly those relating to arms trade and military cooperation.
“All three countries expressed grave concerns over the discussions between the two leaders, which included topics related to military cooperation, including the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), despite repeated warnings from the international community,” the statement said. — CNN