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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has offered his country’s “full and unconditional support” for Russia’s war in Ukraine, which he called a “sacred fight” against imperialism and the west, in a meeting with President Vladimir Putin.
The leaders met at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, Russia’s most advanced space rocket launch site located in the country’s far east, with their countries facing international isolation and sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic weapons programmes.
“Russia has risen to a sacred fight to protect its sovereignty and security . . . against the hegemonic forces,” Kim told Putin via a translator. “We will always support the decisions of President Putin and the Russian leadership . . . and we will be together in the fight against imperialism.”
It was the second meeting between Putin and Kim in four years, and the North Korean leader’s first international trip since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Russian state media said that the two leaders had a formal meeting of about an hour, followed by a 50-minute private conversation and then an official lunch hosted by Putin in Kim’s honour.
The US has grown increasingly alarmed by the possibility of an arms deal between Russia and North Korea, with Putin seeking to replenish supplies of conventional munitions depleted by heavy artillery use in Ukraine. Kim was seen as likely to request access to advanced technology for spy satellites and nuclear-powered submarines as well as food aid.
Putin said Moscow would help Pyongyang build satellites, telling reporters that the two would discuss issues including weapons supplies, according to Russian state media. North Korea has made two failed attempts this year to launch a spy satellite into space.
“That’s why we came here,” Putin said. “The leader of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] shows great interest in rocket engineering, they are also trying to develop space [capabilities].”
Kim, who arrived at the cosmodrome 60km north of Vladivostok in a limousine brought from Pyongyang on his luxury armoured train, said on Wednesday that relations with Moscow were a “top priority”.
His trip, which followed a visit to Pyongyang by Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu in July, demonstrated the “strategic importance” of the relationship, which Kim said he hoped to raise to “a fresh higher level”.
North Korea has opposed a UN General Assembly resolution condemning the military action.
After his meetings with Kim, Putin told Russian state TV channel Rossiya-1 that Kim had “big plans” for the rest of his Russia visit, including visiting “aircraft factories that produce both civil and military planes”.
Asked about military-technical co-operation, Putin said: “There are certain restrictions which Russia adheres to, but there are things that we can discuss, and there are prospects.”
Earlier on Wednesday, North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles towards the Sea of Japan, according to Japan’s defence ministry.
Washington has previously accused Pyongyang of supplying arms including infantry rockets and missiles to the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-aligned private army, for use in Ukraine, an allegation both Russia and North Korea have denied.
Analysts estimate that North Korea has a large stockpile of ageing artillery equipment and rockets based on or duplicating designs from the Soviet Union, its former patron.
The meeting will also offer Kim a chance to replenish state coffers as North Korea embarks on a belated reopening from stringent Covid-19 restrictions, which cut off foreign trade and strangled its economy.