“The North Korean government’s official media, KCNA, stated on Tuesday that Kim Jong-un has embarked on a journey in his heavily guarded private train from the capital of North Korea. Meanwhile, Pyongyang and Moscow have confirmed that they will soon hold a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In photos released by the North Korean news agency, Kim can be seen boarding a green train surrounded by officials at Pyongyang station. In the background, you can spot cheering crowds and waving flags.
The summit meeting, expected to take place in the remote Russian city of Vladivostok, is raising concerns from the United States that both leaders might negotiate arms deals. Last week, the U.S. government expressed concerns that Russia’s efforts to find new arms suppliers for the conflict in Ukraine could lead to such talks.
No country has specified when or where this journey will take place, nor have they outlined the agenda for any potential face-to-face discussions. The Kremlin stated on Monday that Kim will be visiting Russia “in the coming days,” while North Korean state media stated that they will “meet and engage in discussions.”
According to Russia’s state TV channel, Russia 24, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated that Putin allegedly arrived in Vladivostok on Monday. This city is where Kim and Putin first met in April 2019.
KCNA reported that Kim is accompanied not only by senior party officials but also by members of the government and armed forces.”
A Rare Journey for Kim
This journey marks Kim’s first foreign trip since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Due to the sealing of borders for the past three years, North Korea has recently relaxed its travel restrictions.
Since taking office in 2011, this is only Kim’s 10th journey abroad. All of these trips occurred in 2018 and 2019 when the North Korean leader engaged in discussions about his nuclear arsenal and missile programs with then-US President Donald Trump in three historic meetings – one in Singapore, one in Hanoi, and one in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates North and South Korea.
Kim has also made four visits to China in the past two years to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. The remaining trip in 2018 was to visit then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the DMZ.
Vladivostok is situated approximately 130 kilometers (80 miles) from the North Korean border.
It’s said that North Korean leaders prefer to travel in high-security luxury trains – a tradition started by Kim’s father. However, more than half of their foreign trips involve less than luxurious rail travel. Out of these nine trips, three were by air, and two involved car journeys to the DMZ.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also visited Pyongyang in July and attempted to persuade them to sell weapons and ammunition.
So, this journey is indeed a significant and rare event for Kim, given the recent travel restrictions and the importance of the meetings that may take place during this visit.
A Warning on Kim’s Rare Journey
Last Tuesday, Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor at the White House, issued a warning that if North Korea engages in arms trade with Russia, it will have to “pay the price.” However, he didn’t elaborate on the potential consequences.
North Korea is already under United Nations and American sanctions due to its ballistic missile program, which Pyongyang has pursued despite international restrictions.
This possible meeting between Putin and Kim could lead to the acquisition of weapons that have been out of Pyongyang’s reach for decades, especially in light of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, which has weakened the Russian military and prompted it to seek supplies.
Following the announcements from both countries on Monday, the White House appealed to North Korea not to “provide or sell weapons to Russia.”
In response to Russia and North Korea’s announcement, Adrian Watson, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, stated, “As we have publicly warned, we expect discussions on arms to continue between Russia and DPRK during Kim Jong-un’s trip to Russia.”
The statement also urged the nation to “adhere to public commitments not to provide or sell weapons to Russia through Pyongyang.”
In September 2022, after reports of North Korea selling arms to Russia surfaced, an official from the North Korean Defense Ministry stated at the time, “Pyongyang has never exported arms or ammunition to Russia before, and we have no plans to export them now.”
This journey is indeed significant, given the recent travel restrictions and the potential implications of discussions between North Korea and Russia on the arms trade.