North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will visit Russia at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin – a meeting analysts say could spawn significant military deals for both sides.
The announcement on Monday came after South Korean media reported Kim appeared to have departed for Russia aboard a special armoured train.
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Speculation has mounted in recent weeks that Kim – who rarely leaves North Korea and has not travelled since the start of the coronavirus pandemic – was preparing to hold talks with the president of Russia, which is bogged down in an 18-month war in Ukraine.
Here is what we know so far about the Putin-Kim meeting:
Vladivostok may be the venue
Putin on Tuesday is scheduled to deliver a speech at the Eastern Economic Forum in the Russian port city of Vladivostok – the same city where Kim and Putin met in April 2019.
US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson recently said the Kim-Putin meeting would be part of ongoing discussions over weapons sales between the two countries.
“As we have warned publicly, arms negotiations between Russia and the DPRK are actively advancing,” Watson said, using an acronym for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the official name of North Korea.
Both Pyongyang and Moscow have vehemently denied plans for an arms deal.
Quid pro quo
The White House has alleged Russia is seeking to acquire a range of munitions and supplies for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
North Korea has possibly tens of millions of artillery shells and rockets based on Soviet designs that could potentially give a huge boost to the Russian army, analysts say.
In exchange, Kim could seek badly needed energy and food aid and advanced weapons technologies, including those related to intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarines and military reconnaissance satellites, analysts say.
What’s on the table?
North Korea is one of the few countries to have openly supported Russia since the invasion of Ukraine last year.
Yulia Shapovalova, a Moscow-based correspondent, told Al Jazeera that analysts say Pyongyang can offer Russia ammunition, rocket systems and short-range ballistic missiles.
“Meanwhile, Russia can offer grain, oil, part of its technology or pay hard currency to North Korea,” she said. “This may be agreed upon with China as well because North Korea will act strictly according to agreements with China. That is what people here say.”
After a complicated, hot-and-cold relationship for decades, Russia and North Korea have been drawing closer since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
The bond has been driven by Putin’s need for war help and Kim’s efforts to boost the visibility of his partnerships with traditional allies Moscow and Beijing, as he tries to break out of diplomatic isolation and have North Korea be part of a united front against Washington.
While using the distraction caused by the Ukraine conflict to ramp up its weapons development, North Korea has repeatedly blamed Washington for the crisis in Ukraine, claiming the West’s “hegemonic policy” justified a Russian offensive in Ukraine to protect itself.
Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul, said a Putin-Kim summit was part of “gentle diplomatic blackmail” by Russia of South Korea, because it did not want Seoul to supply weapons to Kyiv.