Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has landed in North Korea, amplifying United States concerns about deepening North Korea-Russia military cooperation amid the war in Ukraine.
Lavrov’s trip to the Asian country on Wednesday, his first since 2018, is expected to pave the way for a visit to Pyongyang by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who hosted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Moscow just a month ago.
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Lavrov is expected to brief the North Koreans on Putin’s visit to China, which is hosting some 130 global leaders for its third Belt and Road Initiative forum, and also discuss Putin’s potential upcoming visit, according to Russia’s state news agency.
Lavrov’s visit to North Korea comes days after the US expressed concern that Pyongyang is supplying Moscow with weapons, in return for a range of military assistance, including advanced technologies.
Washington claimed on Friday that North Korea has delivered more than 1,000 containers of military equipment and munitions to Russia in recent weeks.
The US allegations have been denied by both North Korea and the Kremlin.
“Russia, as a responsible member of the world community, strictly adheres to its international obligations towards Pyongyang through the UN Security Council,” Russian Ambassador at Large Oleg Burmistrov said.
“At the same time, we are categorically against the introduction of new restrictive measures,” he added.
Putin and Kim heaped praise upon one another during their September meeting, with the North Korean leader fully backing Russia in its war with Ukraine and wishing the Russian president victory against the “imperialists’ anti-Russia scheme”.
Putin claimed that there were areas of potential military collaboration between the two states in spite of numerous UN sanctions against North Korea over its weapons and ballistic missile programme.
“There are certain restrictions. Russia complies with all these restrictions. But there are things that we can talk about … Under the current rules, we also have opportunities, which we see and discuss,” the Russian president said.
Putin and Lavrov’s engagement in Asia is part of a push by Moscow to deepen ties throughout the continent as geopolitical tensions persist over its war in Ukraine. On Tuesday, Putin accepted an invitation from Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong to visit Hanoi, a key Russian ally and arms purchaser.
However, Moscow’s diplomatic drive in East Asia could be eclipsed by the escalating war in Gaza, which saw an air strike kill at least 500 civilians at a crowded hospital on Tuesday night. Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman said Russia considered the attack “as a crime – as an act of dehumanisation”.
It also comes as Russia faces criticism for an air strike in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia that killed at least two civilians and wiped out two floors of a residential building. A Russian official in the city cast blame for the attack on Ukrainian forces.