Kim Jong Un will travel to Russia at the invitation of his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, Pyongyang and Moscow said on Monday, amid warnings from the United States that the two leaders could strike an arms deal.
The US government said last week that such a meeting could take place as part of Russia’s efforts to find new suppliers for weapons to use in its war against Ukraine.
Neither country specified when or where the visit would take place, nor what would be on the agenda of any potential face-to-face. The Kremlin said in a statement Monday that Kim would pay an official visit to Russia “in the coming days,” while North Korean state media said they would “meet and have a talk.”
However, it appears likely that the two leaders will see each other in the far eastern city of Vladivostok, where they met for the first time in April 2019. Putin reportedly arrived in Vladivostok on Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to state TV Russia 24. Kim, meanwhile, appears to be on a train heading to Russia, a South Korean government official told CNN.
The visit will be Kim’s first foreign trip since the Covid-19 pandemic. With its borders sealed because of that for much of the past three years, North Korea has only recently begun to relax travel restrictions.
It will also be only Kim’s 10th trip since assuming power in 2011. All of those came in 2018 and 2019, as the North Korean leader engaged in negotiations over his nuclear weapons and missile programs in three meetings with then-US President Donald Trump – one in Singapore, one in Hanoi and one in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea.
Kim also made four trips to China over those two years to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. The remaining trip was to the DMZ in 2018 to meet with then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Vladivostok lies 130 km (80 miles) from the border with North Korea.
The North Korea leader is said to prefer traveling in an upscale armored train – as did his father before him – but rail travel accounts for less than half of his foreign trips. Three of this nine trips have been made in planes and two, both to the DMZ, by car.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also visited Pyongyang in July in an attempt to convince it to sell artillery ammunition.
Last Tuesday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned that North Korea it will “pay a price” if it strikes an arms deal with Russia, though he did not elaborate on these potential repercussions.
North Korea is already under United Nations and US sanctions imposed over Pyongyang’s weapons of mass destruction program.
The potential Putin-Kim meeting could lead to Pyongyang getting its hands on the sort of weapons those sanctions have barred it from accessing for two decades, especially for its nuclear-capable ballistic missile program.
It also comes after more than a year and a half of war in Ukraine has left the Russian military battered, depleted and in need of supplies.
Following Monday’s announcement from both countries, the White House urged North Korea to “not provide or sell arms to Russia.
“As we have warned publicly, arms discussions between Russia and the DPRK are expected to continue during Kim Jong-Un’s trip to Russia,” said National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson in response to Russia and North Korea’s announcement.
The statement also urged the country to “abide by the public commitments that Pyongyang has made to not provide or sell arms to Russia.”
After reports emerged of North Korean arms sales to Russia in September 2022, a North Korean Defense Ministry official said at the time that Pyongyang had “never exported weapons or ammunition to Russia before and we will not plan to export them.”