President Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un enjoyed an “historic meeting and talks” on Wednesday, as the two leaders met at the Vostochny cosmodrome in Russia's Far East.
Here are the main takeaways…
1) Military cooperation
First things first – this wasn’t just the two old friends catching up for a bite to eat. Putin is seeking sources to provide more weapons to fight his war in Ukraine, and Kim is always on the lookout for an opportunity to sidestep his position as a long-isolated pariah on the international stage.
No concrete announcements on weapons were made but in an interview with Russian state television on Wednesday, Putin said there were “possibilities” for military co-operation with North Korea despite international sanctions.
He added: “There are certain limitations... Within the framework of existing rules, there are possibilities that we take note of and we are discussing them.”
Russia is badly in need of artillery ammunition and has ramped up domestic production to a forecast 2.5 million shells this year, from 1.7 million in 2022, AFP reports.
But with Moscow's forces firing up to 60,000 rounds a day, according to Ukrainian figures, “it may be that Russia's increased production capacity is below its real needs on the battlefield,” said Yohann Michel, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
In a study published Friday, the German Council on Foreign Relations found that “Moscow needs imports if it wants to sustain the current operational intensity of its war effort over a long time”.
North Korea boasts large stocks of Soviet war material – albeit in an unknown condition – and itself mass-produces conventional weaponry.
In exchange, Pyongyang might want oil and food from Russia, or even access to space technology.
Speaking of which…
2) A North Korean in space?
The venue for the meeting – Russia's Vostochny cosmodrome – was no accident, and according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, the pair discussed the possibility of Moscow providing assistance to North Korea’s own space program.
“We talked about the fact that if the North Korean side wishes, a North Korean cosmonaut can be trained and sent into space,” Russian state media quoted him as saying.
A North Korean has never been in space while the country’s two attempts to put a spy satellite into orbit have both failed.
It clearly hasn’t dampened Kim’s enthusiasm for all things space-related however and, as he toured assembly and launch facilities for the Angara and Soyuz-2 space rocket launchers, Kim “show[ed] great interest in rocket technology,” Putin said, adding: “They are trying to develop [their presence in] space.
Putin also said Russia could help North Korea build satellites.
3) “A great victory”
In an unsurprising announcement, Kim told Putin he was sure Russia would win a “great victory” over its enemies, even as what Russia believed would be a days-long “special military operation” drags on into its 19th month.
“We are confident that the Russian army and people will win a great victory in the just fight to punish evil groups who pursue hegemony, expansion, and ambition,” he said while raising a toast at an official banquet.
Heaping the praise on further, he also lauded Russia’s “heroic” army, adding “we will always be with Russia.”
In return, Putin said: “An old friend is better than two new ones.”
4) The next destination
Kim didn’t head back home straight away and is instead on his way to Russia’s Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok.
Explaining the purpose of the visit, Putin said: “There is also a military component in Vladivostok, on the lines of the defense ministry, but it is simply to demonstrate the capabilities of the Pacific Fleet.”
It can safely be assumed that Kim won’t be being given a demonstration of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet as, after a Ukrainian missile strike yesterday, some of it looks like this…
5) The return invitation
After the meeting, North Korean state media reported that Putin had accepted an invitation to be hosted by Kim in Pyongyang.
“Kim Jong Un courteously invited Putin to visit the DPRK at a convenient time", North Korea’s central news agency KCNA reported.
“Putin accepted the invitation with pleasure and reaffirmed his will to invariably carry forward the history and tradition of the Russia-DPRK friendship.”
So, what’s the verdict?
“The summit signals a seismic change in the Northeast Asian geopolitics," Kim Jong-dae, a former MP and visiting scholar at Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies, told AFP.
A stronger alliance between North Korea, Russia and China could become a “destabilising force in the region” while ammunition from Pyongyang could significantly impact the war in Ukraine.
“I think Russia has already tested the North Korean shells in battlefields and is now ready to expand its use going forward. And neither the US nor South Korea has come to grips with the implications of such an arms deal between Russia and the North,” he said.
“With Kim Jong Un's latest visit to Russia, North Korea-Russia relations can be said to have completely returned to the level of blood alliance during the Cold War,” Cheong Seong-chang, researcher at the Sejong Institute, told AFP.
“There have been many summit meetings between North Korea and Russia so far, but there has never been a time when North Korea brought in almost all of its key military officials like the one happening right now.”
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter