|This photo, carried by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on Sept. 12, shows the North's leader Kim Jong-un leaving Pyongyang for a trip to Russia on his special train. Yonhap|
Pyongyang, Moscow confirm meeting plan as North Korean train heads to Vladivostok
By Jung Min-ho
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is expected to arrive in Russia for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin as early as Tuesday and possibly sign an arms deal.
After a train presumably carrying Kim left Pyongyang en route to Vladivostok, Monday, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported that he will soon "meet and have a talk with" Putin, but did not elaborate on when and where the meeting would take place.
The Kremlin also confirmed that the North Korean leader will visit the country "in the coming days" at the invitation of Putin, according to Russia's TASS news agency.
Hours before the confirmation, South Korean government officials said that the North Korean leader's heavily armored train appeared to have left Pyongyang on Sunday afternoon.
If the summit takes place, it will be the first meeting between Kim and Putin since April 2019, when the two leaders held their first talks in Vladivostok, which ended without a joint statement. Kim also traveled to the Russian city by train at that time.
Experts here said the meeting between Kim and Putin will prompt South Korea to expand support for Ukraine, escalating tensions in Northeast Asia.
Foreign relations experts told The Korea Times that the argument for stronger support for Kyiv in its war with Moscow could gain traction as a result of the summit, as Kim is believed to seek Russian technologies for North Korea's weapons programs in return for providing ammunition. But they said South Korea's military aid would be unlikely ― and detrimental ― given significant geopolitical risks.
"After the possible deal between Kim and Putin, South Korea's support for Ukraine will likely expand, which would intensify the current Cold War-like confrontation," said Kim Sung-soo, a professor of political science and international studies at Hanyang University.
But the scholar remains skeptical that South Korea's support would extend to lethal weapons given the clear limits of Russia's cooperation with North Korea.
"North Korea may demand all it wants, including Russian technology for the development of a nuclear-powered submarine, but giving such technology is not in Russia's national interest. It would almost certainly bring about Beijing's hostile reaction and cause Japan to consider developing nuclear weapons," he said.
"As an experienced leader, Putin is certainly aware of all such risks … This is why South Korea would not ― and should not ― make a surprise move by sending artillery or tanks to Ukraine."
Kim Jung-sup, a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute, a state-funded think tank, said he also believes the Kim-Putin summit would likely push South Korea to expand support for Ukraine ― but within the realms of humanitarian and economic assistance.
Their assessments come as renowned U.S. experts on Korea peninsula affairs, such as Victor Cha and Sue Mi Terry, have spoken about the possibility of Seoul's military aid to Kyiv as the consequence of the summit.
|Ukrainian tanks train in northern Ukraine, Friday, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. AFP-Yonhap|
At the G20 summit in New Delhi on Sunday, President Yoon Suk Yeol promised to provide an additional $2.3 billion (3 trillion won) in aid to Ukraine to help restore peace and rebuild, saying that South Korea will provide the initial $300 million in 2024 in the form of humanitarian aid and the remaining $2 billion in the form of long-term, low-interest loans starting in 2025.
Speaking at Monday's media briefing, Jeon Ha-kyu, a spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, said Kim and Putin could well proceed with the original summit schedule despite the U.S. disclosure of their plan.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Minister Park Jin and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, met, Sunday, on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in which Park stressed that Russia-North Korea relations should "advance in the direction of contributing to peace and stability" in the East Asia region. He also called for Russia's cooperation in the U.N. Security Council to resolve North Korea's nuclear issues.
According to some estimates, North Korea has tens of millions of artillery shells and rockets that could give a major boost to Russian military forces, which have reportedly been running low on small arms and ammunition.
Appearing on CBS, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said Moscow's attempt to reinforce ties with Pyongyang shows how desperate it is and their possible arms deal would "further isolate them." She also said that the U.S. goal for the complete denuclearization of North Korea has not changed.