SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has held talks with Russia’s defense minister about strengthening “strategic and tactical coordination” between the countries’ militaries, North Korean state media said Sunday as Kim continued his visit to Russia’s Far East. That has raised concerns about an arms alliance fueling Moscow’s war against Ukraine.
The talks with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu came after Kim on Friday was shown some of Russia’s most advanced weapons systems deployed in the war against Ukraine, including nuclear-capable bombers and hypersonic missiles, and a key warship from his Pacific fleet , the Korean Central News. Agency said.
Kim’s trip, highlighted by a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, has underscored how their interests align in the face of separate, increasingly intense confrontations with the West. U.S. and South Korean officials have said North Korea could provide much-needed ammunition for Putin’s war against Ukraine in exchange for advanced Russian weapons technology that would further Kim’s nuclear ambitions.
While his main focus is on military cooperation, Kim also appears to be using his trip to encourage broader exchanges between the countries as he tries to break diplomatic isolation.
The governor of Russia’s Primorye region, which includes Vladivostok, said he plans to meet Kim on Sunday. Gov. Oleg Kozhemyako said on his messaging app channel that they would discuss exchange programs for schoolchildren to attend summer camps in each other’s countries and other ways to cooperate in the fields of sports, tourism and culture. Russian media said Kim could also visit companies in the food industry in Primorye.
A day after visiting an aircraft factory in Komsomolsk-on-Amur that produces Russia’s most powerful fighter jets, Kim traveled Saturday to an airport near the port city of Vladivostok, where Shoigu and other senior military officials got an up-close look at him. Russian strategic bombers and other fighter planes.
All Russian fighter jets shown to Kim were among the types actively used in the war in Ukraine, including the Tu-160, Tu-95 and Tu-22 bombers that have regularly launched cruise missiles.
During Kim’s visit, Shoigu and Lt. Gen. Sergei Kobylash, the commander of Russia’s long-range bombers, confirmed for the first time that the Tu-160 had recently received new cruise missiles with a range of more than 6,500 kilometers (more than 4,040 miles).
Shoigu, who met Kim during a rare visit to North Korea in July, also showed Kim another of Russia’s newest missiles, the hypersonic Kinzhal, carried by the MiG-31 fighter jet, which saw its first combat during the war in Ukraine .
Kim and Shoigu later traveled to Vladivostok, where they inspected Admiral Shaposhnikov’s frigate. Russian Navy Commander Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov briefed Kim on the ship’s capabilities and weapons, including long-range Kalibr cruise missiles that Russian warships have regularly fired at targets in Ukraine.
KCNA, which reported Kim’s activities in Russia a day late as he was drafting the details to suit government propaganda purposes, said Kim was accompanied during Saturday’s visits by his top military officials, including his minister of Defense and the top commanders of its air force and navy.
After lunch, Kim and Shoigu discussed the regional security environment and exchanged views on “practical issues arising in further strengthening strategic and tactical coordination, cooperation and mutual exchange between the armed forces of the two countries,” KCNA said.
At their meeting in July, Kim Shoigu gave a similar inspection of North Korean weapons systems before inviting him to a massive parade in the capital Pyongyang, where he rolled out his most powerful intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to target the United States.
Kim’s visits to military and technology centers this week may indicate what he wants from Russia, perhaps in exchange for supplying ammunition to replenish Putin’s dwindling reserves as his invasion of Ukraine becomes a protracted war of attrition.
Kim’s meeting with Putin took place at Russia’s main spaceport, a location that signaled his desire for Russian help in his efforts to acquire space-based reconnaissance assets and missile technologies.
Experts have said potential military cooperation between the countries could include efforts to modernize North Korea’s aging air force, which relies on fighter jets sent from the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
Kim has also refocused in recent months on strengthening the country’s navy, which analysts say could be driven by ambitions to acquire Russia’s advanced technologies for ballistic missile submarines and nuclear-powered submarines, and to hold joint naval exercises between Russia and North Korea to initiate.
Later on Saturday, Kim visited a local theater to watch Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty ballet. KCNA said Kim received a rousing ovation from the people in the theater and “deeply thanked the artists and the theater for their impressive and elegant ballet of high artistic value.”
Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti said Kim left after the first act.