North Korea’s leader wraps up Russia trip with drones gift

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MOSCOW — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un left Russia on Sunday after a rare six-day visit that appeared to solidify his country’s ties with President Vladimir Putin — fanning Western fears that Pyongyang could provide Moscow with weapons for its assault on Ukraine.

Kim’s tour of Russia’s far eastern region, which began Tuesday, has focused intensely on military cooperation, including a symbolic exchange of rifles with Putin and an inspection of state-of-the-art Russian weapons.

Kim’s first official visit abroad since the coronavirus pandemic has sparked concerns that Moscow and Pyongyang will defy Western sanctions to secure an arms deal that could help the Kremlin continue its assault against Ukraine.

Before departing Vladivostok, the Far East Russian city just over the border with North Korea, Kim was presented with five explosive drones, a reconnaissance drone and a bulletproof vest as gifts from the governor of the Primorsky region, which borders China and North Korea.

He also visited the Far Eastern State University and appeared particularly pleased as he watched a walrus show at a local oceanarium.

Summing up the North Korean leader’s visit, Russian Natural Resources Minister Alexander Kozlov, who accompanied him on his last day, said “a lot” had been discussed.

In this handout photograph taken and published on the official Telegram account of Russia’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Alexander Kozlov on September 17, 2023, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un (2nd L), the Governor of the Primorsky region, Oleg Kozhemyako (L) and Russia’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Alexander Kozlov (R) applaud during a visit to the Primorsky Aquarium in Vladivostok. (Handout / Telegram / @ministrlive / AFP)

“Kim Jong Un was very interested in and paid attention to minute details,” Kozlov said.

He made no mention of any agreements concerning military matters, but said the two sides discussed increasing supplies of grain and the resumption of regular air travel. The two countries also discussed reviving long-muted infrastructure projects, he said.

Government officials from the two countries also agreed to meet in Pyongyang in November, Kozlov added.

This video grab taken from footage posted on the official Telegram account of Primorsky region governor Oleg Kozhemyako on September 17, 2023, shows North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un (C) accompanied by Governor of Primorsky region Oleg Kozhemyako (C-L) visiting an exhibition of military and dual-use goods in Vladivostok. (Handout / Telegram / @kozhemiakoofficial / AFP)

At the end of Kim’s visit, official Russian video footage showed him waving goodbye from his heavily armored train to a Russian delegation, before the Russian march “Farewell of Slavianka” was played as the train departed.

Russia and North Korea, historic allies, are both under rafts of global sanctions — Moscow for its Ukraine offensive, Pyongyang for its nuclear weapon tests.

On Saturday, Kim met Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Vladivostok, where he inspected state-of-the-art weapons including a hypersonic missile system.

The pair were seen smiling as they inspected some of Russia’s nuclear bombers at an airfield before boarding a warship.

North Korean news agency KCNA later published pictures of a broadly smiling Kim wearing a traditional Russian fur hat and raising a glass of vodka with Shoigu and their delegations.

On Wednesday, Putin and Kim held talks at Russia’s new Vostochny cosmodrome, roughly 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) from Moscow.

After the meeting, Putin talked up the prospect of greater cooperation with North Korea and the “possibilities” for military ties.

In this handout photograph taken and published on the official Telegram account of Russia’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Alexander Kozlov on September 17, 2023, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un (C) and Russia’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Alexander Kozlov (R) attend a farewell ceremony at the end of North Korean leader’s visit to Russia at the Artyom railway station near Vladivostok, in the Primorsky region. (Handout / Telegram / @ministrlive / AFP)

Moscow is believed to be interested in buying North Korean ammunition to continue fighting in Ukraine, while Pyongyang wants Russia’s help to develop its internationally condemned missile program.

The Kremlin has said no agreement has or will be signed.

North Korean news agency KCNA has described Kim’s visit as “fervent and warm” and said a “new era of friendship, solidarity and cooperation” was opening between North Korea and Russia.

While meeting Kim, Putin accepted an invitation to visit North Korea and offered to send a North Korean to space, which would be a first.

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