In a surprising diplomatic move, Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, is set to embark on a significant journey to Russia this month. The primary objective of this historic visit is to engage in discussions with President Vladimir V. Putin regarding the potential supply of weaponry to Russia for its ongoing conflict in Ukraine. This high-stakes meeting has caught the attention of American and allied officials worldwide. In this comprehensive article, we delve into the intricate details of this diplomatic maneuver and its far-reaching implications.
A Rare Departure from North Korea
Kim Jong-un’s decision to leave North Korea is an extraordinary occurrence, as the leader typically remains within his country’s borders. He is expected to travel to Vladivostok, Russia, most likely by armored train, demonstrating the significance of this diplomatic mission. The meeting with President Putin holds the promise of shaping the future dynamics of military cooperation between the two nations.
Mutual Interests and Negotiations
The core of these discussions revolves around a complex web of negotiations. On one hand, President Putin seeks Kim Jong-un’s agreement to supply Russia with artillery shells and antitank missiles. These arms would be instrumental in Russia’s ongoing conflict in Ukraine. On the other hand, Kim Jong-un has his own set of demands. He aspires for Russia to provide North Korea with advanced technology for satellites and nuclear-powered submarines. Additionally, Kim Jong-un is keen on securing food aid for his impoverished nation, a pressing concern for the North Korean leader.
Meeting at Far Eastern Federal University
Both leaders are slated to meet at the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, coinciding with the Eastern Economic Forum scheduled to run from September 10 to 13. This confluence of events underscores the strategic importance of the discussions. Furthermore, Kim Jong-un has plans to visit Pier 33, where naval ships from Russia’s Pacific fleet dock. Notably, North Korea celebrates the anniversary of its founding on September 9, adding an intriguing layer to the timing of this diplomatic venture.
White House Alert and Diplomatic Progress
The White House issued a warning regarding the exchange of letters between Mr. Putin and Mr. Kim, highlighting the possibility of an arms deal. Declassified intelligence served as the basis for this cautionary move. John F. Kirby, a White House spokesman, confirmed the active advancement of high-level talks on military cooperation between Russia and North Korea. However, U.S. officials have remained tight-lipped about the details of the personal ties between the two leaders, considering them as adversaries of the United States.
Unveiling New Intelligence
The recent revelation of a planned meeting between Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin has taken diplomatic intrigue to a new level. The intelligence regarding these plans remains classified, leaving many questions unanswered. The officials who disclosed this information were not authorized to discuss it and refrained from providing insights into the methods used by spy agencies to gather this crucial intelligence.
U.S. Diplomatic Stance
Despite the secrecy surrounding the new intelligence, Adrienne Watson, a National Security Council spokeswoman, affirmed the United States’ expectation of “leader-level diplomatic engagement” on the issue of arms sales between Russia and North Korea. Officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (D.P.R.K.), North Korea faces calls from the U.S. to cease its arms negotiations with Russia and adhere to public commitments against providing or selling arms to Russia.
White House’s Prior Efforts
Since Russia initiated its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the White House has consistently released declassified intelligence to discourage countries like North Korea, China, and others from supplying weapons to Russia. White House warnings about the planned transfers of North Korean artillery shells have previously deterred cooperation between Pyongyang and Moscow.
North Korean Preparations
In a significant indication of the seriousness of Kim Jong-un’s visit, a delegation of approximately 20 North Korean officials, including those responsible for overseeing security protocols for the leadership, embarked on a journey from Pyongyang to Vladivostok in late August. After arriving in Vladivostok, they flew to Moscow. This planning expedition lasted about 10 days, as per officials briefed on the intelligence reports.
Following his meeting in Vladivostok, Kim Jong-un has several potential destinations. One of these is the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a space launch center where a meeting between Mr. Putin and Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, took place in April 2022. This center, which conducted its first rocket launch in 2016, is situated approximately 950 miles north of Vladivostok. Another possible stop for Kim Jong-un is Moscow.
Origin of the Visit
The idea of Kim Jong-un’s visit to Russia traces back to a trip by Sergei K. Shoigu, the Russian defense minister, to North Korea in July. This visit coincided with Kim Jong-un’s celebration of the 70th anniversary of the “victory” over South Korean and U.S. forces in the Korean War. While the Korean War ended in a stalemate and armistice agreement in 1953, the two Koreas remain officially at war. During Shoigu’s visit, Kim Jong-un showcased an exhibition of weaponry and military equipment, including ballistic missiles banned by the United Nations. It was during this meeting that Kim Jong-un presented options for enhanced military cooperation and proposed a visit by Mr. Putin to North Korea. In response, Mr. Shoigu suggested that Kim Jong-un make the journey to Russia.
A Historic Visit
Sergei K. Shoigu’s visit to North Korea marked the first such visit by a Russian defense minister since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The visit culminated with Mr. Shoigu presenting Kim Jong-un with a letter from President Putin, as confirmed by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea’s state news service. While the KCNA did not explicitly mention Ukraine during the conversations, it did highlight Kim Jong-un’s expression of views on mutual concerns related to safeguarding sovereignty, development, and interests in the face of imperialistic practices. The ultimate goal, as stated by Putin, is to protect Russian sovereignty by incorporating Ukraine into a restored Russian Empire.
In June, Kim Jong-un sent President Putin a message on Russia’s national day, pledging to “hold hands” with the Russian leader and promising full support and solidarity from North Korea for Russia’s endeavors. This strengthening of the Russia-North Korea alliance aligns with the strategic interests of both leaders, particularly in the face of a shared adversary in the United States, as noted by Jean H. Lee, a recent senior fellow on the Koreas at the Wilson Center.
Adding to the diplomatic activities in North Korea, a Chinese delegation led by Li Hongzhong, a member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, visited North Korea during its celebration. Mr. Li conveyed a letter from Xi Jinping, China’s leader, to Kim Jong-un. This exchange highlights the international attention that North Korea is garnering due to its diplomatic efforts.
Kim Jong-un is known for his personal diplomacy, often exchanging affectionate and enthusiastic letters with foreign leaders he considers allies or potential partners. His series of letters with President Donald J. Trump in preparation for historic face-to-face summits garnered significant global attention.
As Kim Jong-un prepares to embark on this momentous journey to Russia, the world awaits the outcomes with great anticipation. This diplomatic encounter has the potential to reshape regional dynamics and influence global politics. Whether it leads to significant shifts in military cooperation or remains symbolic in nature, one thing is certain – this meeting will be closely scrutinized by nations worldwide. Its implications may extend far beyond the confines of diplomacy, leaving a lasting mark on the geopolitical landscape.