Vladimir Putin receives warm welcome in North Korea

Kim Jong-un welcomes Vladimir Putin at official ceremony in Pyongyang

Vladimir Putin has arrived in North Korea for a summit with Kim Jong-un, amid US warnings against any agreement that could add to military pressure on Ukraine and raise tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Making his first visit to the reclusive country since 2000, the Russian president flew to Pyongyang to be greeted by huge welcome banners, cheering crowds and Russian flags.

The men were due to sign agreements designed to deepen a relationship that has strengthened significantly since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

“We highly appreciate your consistent and unwavering support for Russian policy, including in the Ukrainian direction,” Russian state news agency RIA quoted Putin as saying at the start of the talks with Kim.

Kim, who met Putin in Vladivostok during a week-long visit to Russia last September, is one of the few world leaders to have voiced unequivocal support for the war, while Putin has described the pair as “comrades-in-arms” against western attempts to isolate them through sanctions.

The US and South Korea say they have evidence that North Korea has supplied dozens of ballistic missiles and more than 11,000 containers of munitions to Russia for use in Ukraine, while Kim is understood to have sought Russian food and energy aid, and help with his country’s space programme.

Putin and Kim attend the official welcome ceremony in the Kim Il Sung Square.
Putin and Kim attend the official welcome ceremony in the Kim Il Sung Square. Photograph: Vladimir Smirnov/AP

Both countries have denied striking an arms deal during their summit nine months ago, but on the eve of his reciprocal visit Putin thanked Kim’s government for its support.

On Wednesday, an honour guard including mounted soldiers, and a large crowd of civilians gathered at a square in the capital, video broadcast by Russian media showed. The scene included children holding balloons, and giant portraits of the two leaders with national flags adorning the Grand People’s Study Hall.

In an article published in North Korean media, the Russian leader commended Kim for defying UN security council sanctions – measures that were supported by Moscow until recently – targeting his regime’s nuclear ambitions.

Pyongyang had defended its interests “very effectively, despite the US economic pressure, provocation, blackmail and military threats that have lasted for decades”, Putin wrote.

He added: “We will develop alternative mechanisms of trade and mutual settlements that are not controlled by the west, and jointly resist illegitimate unilateral restrictions. And at the same time we will build an architecture of equal and indivisible security in Eurasia.”

North Korea’s state KCNA news agency said Putin’s visit proved that ties between the two countries “are getting stronger day by day” and would lend “fresh vitality to the development of the good-neighbourly cooperative relations between the two countries”.

The US voiced concern that the visit could have security implications for Ukraine and the Korean peninsula, which has been shaken in recent days by friction along the heavily armed border that has separated North from South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean war.

A picture of Vladimir Putin on a billboard displayed on the side of an office-type building, with Russian and North Korean flags on either side
A picture of Vladimir Putin on a billboard in Pyongyang. Photograph: Getty Images

“We know North Korean ballistic missiles are still being used to hit Ukrainian targets (and) there could be some reciprocity here that could affect security on the Korean peninsula,” the US national security council spokesperson, John Kirby, told reporters.

Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said Putin’s trip showed he was “dependent” on authoritarian leaders. “Their closest friends and the biggest supporters of the Russian war effort – war of aggression – [are] North Korea, Iran and China,” he said.

The Russian delegation to Pyongyang reportedly includes the defence minister, Andrei Belousov; the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov; the heads of the Russian space agency and its railways, and Putin’s point man for energy, the deputy prime minister, Alexander Novak.

North Korea could promise “to provide Russia with continuing supplies of artillery, guided rockets for multiple rocket launchers, and short-range missiles to support Russia’s operations in Ukraine”, Bruce Bennett, a senior defence analyst at RAND Corporation, told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

In return, Bennett added, North Korea will want “Russia to provide a variety of advanced technologies” and “a substantial flow of Russian oil and food products, along with hard currency payments”.

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