North Korean leader King Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin
North Korean leader King Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russia President Vladimir Putin makes a rare visit to North Korea, an old ally

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in North Korea early on Wednesday, after saying the two countries want to cooperate closely to overcome US-led sanctions in the face of intensifying confrontations with Washington.

Seoul | Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in North Korea early on Wednesday, after saying the two countries want to cooperate closely to overcome US-led sanctions in the face of intensifying confrontations with Washington.

Putin was met at Pyongyang's airport by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. They shook hands and embraced, and Kim later joined Putin in his car to personally guide him to Pyongyang's Kumsusan State Guest House, North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said. The agency described their meeting as a historic event that demonstrates the “invincibility and durability” of the two nations' friendship and unity.

Putin, making his first trip to North Korea in 24 years, said in comments that appeared in its state media hours before he landed that he appreciates the country's firm support of his military actions in Ukraine. The Kremlin launched a full-scale invasion of the neighbouring country in 2022.

He said the countries would continue to "resolutely oppose" what he described as Western ambitions "to hinder the establishment of a multipolar world order based on justice, mutual respect for sovereignty, considering each other's interests".

Putin's visit comes amid growing concerns about an arms arrangement in which Pyongyang provides Moscow with badly needed munitions to fuel Russia's war in Ukraine in exchange for economic assistance and technology transfers that would enhance the threat posed by Kim's nuclear weapons and missile programme.

In the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, the streets were decorated with portraits of Putin and Russian flags. A banner on a building said: "We warmly welcome the President of the Russian Federation." Putin also said in his published remarks that Russia and North Korea will develop trade and payment systems "that are not controlled by the West" and jointly oppose sanctions against the countries, which he described as "illegal, unilateral restrictions".

North Korea is under heavy UN Security Council economic sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile programmes, while Russia is also grappling with sanctions by the United States and its Western partners over its aggression in Ukraine.

Putin said the countries will also expand cooperation in tourism, culture and education.

Before heading to North Korea, Putin travelled to Yakutsk, a city in eastern Russia, where he met regional Gov. Aisen Nikolayev, and received briefings on technology and defence-related projects. He also met with young professionals working in Russia's Far East.

Putin is being accompanied by several top officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Denis Mantrurov, Defence Minister Andrei Belousov and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, according to his foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov. He said a number of documents will be signed during the visit, possibly including an agreement on a comprehensive strategic partnership.

US and South Korean officials say military, economic and other exchanges between North Korea and Russia have sharply increased since Kim met Putin in September in the Russian Far East, their first since 2019.

US and South Korean officials accuse the North of providing Russia with artillery, missiles and other military equipment for use in Ukraine, possibly in return for key military technologies and aid. Both Pyongyang and Moscow deny accusations about North Korean weapons transfers, which would violate multiple UN Security Council sanctions that Russia previously endorsed.

Along with China, Russia has provided political cover for Kim's continuing efforts to advance his nuclear arsenal, repeatedly blocking US-led efforts to impose fresh UN sanctions on the North over its weapons tests.

In March, a Russian veto at the United Nations ended monitoring of UN sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear programme, prompting Western accusations that Moscow is seeking to avoid scrutiny as it buys weapons from Pyongyang for use in Ukraine. US and South Korean officials have said they are discussing options for a new mechanism for monitoring the North.

Earlier this year, Putin sent Kim a high-end Aurus Senat limousine, which he had shown to the North Korean leader when they met in September. Observers said the shipment violated a UN resolution banning the supply of luxury items to North Korea.

In Washington, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Putin's visit to North Korea illustrates how Russia tries, "in desperation, to develop and to strengthen relations with countries that can provide it with what it needs to continue the war of aggression that it started against Ukraine".

"North Korea is providing significant munitions to Russia ... and other weapons for use in Ukraine. Iran has been providing weaponry, including drones, that have been used against civilians and civilian infrastructure," Blinken told reporters following a meeting with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday.

Stoltenberg reiterated concerns about the "potential support that Russia provides to North Korea when it comes to supporting their missile and nuclear programmes".

Lim Soosuk, spokesperson of South Korea's Foreign Ministry, said Seoul has been stressing to Moscow that any cooperation between Russia and North Korea must not "proceed in a direction that violates UN Security Council resolutions or undermines peace and stability in the region". (AP)