With a lingering handshake and the type of bombastic language you would expect from two men trying to ignore their isolation on the world stage, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un have met for talks to prop up each other’s regimes.
The North Korean leader was the most vociferous in his remarks, offering the Russian president his full support for Moscow’s “sacred fight” against “imperialism” – an obvious nod to the West and Mr Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Mr Kim added that North Korea’s relations with Russia were “the first priority”. Mr Putin said in his opening remarks that he was “very glad” to see Mr Kim.
Both men need each other. For Mr Putin, the aim will be a deal for weapons and munitions to feed his war machine in Ukraine. With a counteroffensive launched by Kyiv in June, Moscow will have been chewing through artillery shells, missiles and other munitions and domestic production is struggling to keep up as Western sanctions bite. When asked if he and Mr Kim would talk about weapons supplies, Mr Putin replied that the two leaders would discuss “all issues”.
For Mr Kim, his nation facing its own sanctions from the UN, there will be a push for food and other aid. The location of the meeting – the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the remote Russian region of Amur – is symbolic, with Pyongyang’s leader also after Russian technology to help its satellite and nuclear programmes. Mr Kim’s country has tried – and failed – twice to launch a military spy satellite. When asked if Russia would help the North build satellites, Mr Putin said: “That’s why we came here. The leader of [North Korea] shows great interest in rocket engineering, they are also trying to develop space.”
After their talks Mr Kim was due to travel to Komsomolsk-on-Amur, where he will visit factories where civilian and military equipment is manufactured, Mr Putin told reporters.
The visiting North Korean leader will also travel to Vladivostok to see the capabilities of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, he said, adding that he will be received by the Far Eastern Federal University, a facility of the Academy of Sciences of Russia, whose research laboratories are engaged in marine biology.
Having travelled to Russia by armoured train, Mr Kim is due to conduct his two-city trip by plane – a departure from the travel habits of his father and predecessor Kim Jong-il, who preferred long train journeys due to his fear of flying.
Mr Putin said that he had an “open exchange of opinions with Kim” and there were opportunities for tactical and strategic cooperation.
According to Russian state news agency Tass, when asked about longstanding sanctions against North Korea, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: “Russia maintains its position at the UN Security Council, but this cannot and will not hinder the further development of Russian-North Korean relations.”
He said the talks between the two leaders were “important and substantive” and that Russia sees opportunities to cooperate with North Korea on its space programmes, an area where the country is struggling.
Mr Peskov said that Mr Putin did not raise the risk of nuclear war on the Korean peninsula.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, defended the idea of forging closer ties with Mr Kim in spite of UN sanctions that prohibit North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.
“Sanctions against North Korea were adopted in a completely different geopolitical situation when there were problems establishing dialogue (with Pyongyang), when there were quite serious debates in the Security Council,” Mr Lavrov told Russian TV reporter Pavel Zarubin.
He blamed the West for breaking pledges of humanitarian support for Pyongyang. “We, the Chinese and the North Koreans were deceived,” Mr Lavrov said.
Mr Kim and Mr Putin ended their face-to-face meeting after more than four hours, Russian media reported. An official lunch – comprising of duck salad, crab dumplings, fish soup, sturgeon with mushrooms, and last of all, a berry dessert – followed.
During the lunch, Mr Putin raised his glass and said: “A toast to the future strengthening of cooperation and friendship between our countries... For the wellbeing and prosperity of our nations, for the health of the chairman and all of those present.”
Mr Kim responded in kind saying: “I propose a toast to Mr Putin’s health.”
Mr Putin also praised their countries’ longstanding partnership with a proverb.
“In Korea, there is a proverb: good clothes are those that are new, but old friends are best friends. And our people say: an old friend is better than two new ones,” he told Mr Kim. “This folk wisdom is fully applicable to modern relations between our countries.”
Before the meeting with the two leaders, both nations fired off drones and missiles. For Russia, it was part of its regular aerial assaults on Ukraine, with Kyiv’s air force saying it intercepted 32 of 44 Shahed-type drones launched over Ukraine overnight, with most aimed at the southern parts of the Odesa district. Pyongyang fired two ballistic missiles 10 minutes apart from the area of its international airport towards the country’s eastern seas, South Korea’s joint chief of staff said.
Both missiles fell outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said. Japan’s Coast Guard said the missiles had already landed but still urged vessels to watch for falling objects.
It is not known how the North Korean leader commands and controls his country’s missile and nuclear forces while abroad. However, analysts have said recent drills have revealed a system for overseeing nuclear weapons similar to those used in the United States and Russia.
Mr Kim’s delegation is said to include his foreign minister, his top two military officials, and a number of people with connections to the country’s weapons industry, as well as representatives of the country’s space and technology sectors.