North Korean leader Kim Jong Un plans to travel to Russia this month to meet President Vladimir Putin and discuss supplying Moscow with weapons for the war in Ukraine, the New York Times reported. In a rare trip abroad, Kim would travel from Pyongyang, probably by armored train, to Vladivostok, on the Pacific Coast of Russia, the newspaper said, citing U.S. and allied sources. The two leaders could also hold joint war games, the sources added. The White House said last week that it had intelligence indicating that the Russian defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, visited Pyongyang in July and tried to persuade Kim to sell the country artillery ammunition.
If the talks succeed, the deal would bring a significant windfall to Pyongyang, which has struggled to secure food and fuel imports since its failed satellite launches in late May and August. But it would also give Russia a new weapon in its war in Ukraine, as it has been battling separatists backed by the United States, seeking to retake territory that the Kremlin says it annexed from Ukraine in 2022.
The two leaders have not commented publicly on the Times report, but Moscow and Pyongyang have long had close relations. The North Korean leader’s father, the reclusive Kim Jong Il, traveled to Russia in 2000 and 2011 before his death.
In the past, the two countries have agreed to swap a variety of military technologies, including artillery shells and antitank missiles. But North Korea is also interested in acquiring from Russia cutting-edge technology for satellites and nuclear-powered submarines, according to the Times report.
The paper said that Moscow has also expressed interest in boosting cooperation with the North on the economic front. It has been seeking ways to help North Korea develop its economy, and officials have suggested that it could establish a joint venture company to construct a railway or a gas pipeline.
According to Andrei Lankov, an expert on the reclusive state at Seoul’s Kookmin University, the visit could be aimed at sending a political message to the United States. The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on North Korea and has been trying to pressure the country to denuclearize, but he said it has yet to make a breakthrough in negotiations.
A visit to Russia could also signal a desire by the North to show it can reach out to other countries and demonstrate its independence from China, the isolated nation’s main ally and trade partner. Kim would be able to build up his profile in Russia, which is keen to show it can play a role in Asia, Lankov said. This is the latest in a series of reports about Russian contacts with North Korea. Last month, it was revealed that the two nations have been exchanging letters since Shoigu visited Pyongyang in July. A National Security Council spokesperson said then that the letters were “more at the surface level” but that Russian and North Korean discussions on a possible arms sale were progressing.