North Korean leader Kim Jong Un conducted a high-profile visit to Russia, where he inspected a range of military assets, including nuclear-capable strategic bombers and hypersonic missiles. The visit, accompanied by President Vladimir Putin’s defence minister, has raised concerns in the United States and South Korea about potential technology sharing and its impact on the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Kim’s Arrival at Knevichi Airfield:
Kim Jong Un was warmly received at Russia’s Knevichi airfield, situated approximately 50 km (30 miles) from Vladivostok. He was greeted by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, who saluted the North Korean leader. Kim proceeded to inspect a guard of honour, marking the official commencement of his visit.
Strategic Bombers and Nuclear Capabilities:
During the visit, Defence Minister Shoigu showcased Russia’s formidable strategic bombers, including the Tu-160, Tu-95, and Tu-22M3. These aircraft possess the capability to carry nuclear weapons and constitute a critical component of Russia’s nuclear air attack force. Shoigu highlighted the impressive range of these bombers, with one aircraft capable of flying from Moscow to Japan and back.
Kinzhal Hypersonic Missiles:
Kim Jong Un also showed a keen interest in Russia’s cutting-edge military technology. Defence Minister Shoigu presented the MiG-31I supersonic interceptor aircraft equipped with “Kinzhal” hypersonic missiles. The “Kinzhal,” meaning dagger, is an air-launched ballistic missile with the capacity to carry both nuclear and conventional warheads. It boasts a reported range of 1,500 to 2,000 km (930-1,240 miles) and can achieve speeds up to 10 times the speed of sound.
Duration of Kim’s Stay in Russia:
The Russian Ambassador to North Korea, Alexander Matsegora, indicated that Kim’s programme in Russia is intensive, and it remains unclear how long his visit will last.
Cooperation and Talks with Regional Officials:
Oleg Kozhemyako, the governor of Vladivostok’s Primorye region, announced plans for discussions with Kim Jong Un on various cooperative endeavours, including sport, tourism, and culture.
Inspection of the Russian Pacific Fleet:
Beyond aircraft and missiles, Kim inspected the Russian Pacific Fleet’s frigate “Marshal Shaposhnikov” in Vladivostok. He also observed a demonstration of modern missile control systems.
International Concerns and Reactions:
The United States and South Korea expressed concerns that increased military cooperation between North Korea and Russia could breach U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang. They vowed to ensure there would be consequences for such actions. This visit comes as Russia seeks to bolster its arsenal during the ongoing Ukraine conflict.
Putin’s Strategy and the Kremlin’s Stance:
For President Putin, courting Kim Jong Un provides an opportunity to challenge Washington and its Asian allies while potentially securing military resources for the Ukraine war. The Kremlin has emphasised its intention to continue developing relations with North Korea without violating any agreements.
Lack of Formal Agreements:
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov clarified that there were no plans to sign formal agreements during Kim’s visit.
Russia’s Response to U.S. Actions:
Russian diplomats defended their position, arguing that the United States had no grounds to criticise Moscow’s actions, given America’s own efforts to strengthen alliances worldwide, including deploying a nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine to South Korea earlier this year.
During his stay in Vladivostok, Kim Jong Un enjoyed a cultural interlude by attending the first act of the ballet “Sleeping Beauty,” presented by St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre.