|North Korean leader Kim Jong-un waves as he boards his private train bound to Pyongyang from Primorsky-1 railway station in Artyom, 40 kilometers northeast of Vladivostok, Sunday. Tass-Yonhap|
Kim Jong-un wraps up six-day trip to Russia
By Lee Hyo-jin
The recent burgeoning military cooperation between North Korea and Russia has sparked concerns about the potential transfer of nuclear weapons technologies from Moscow to Pyongyang, but that is unlikely to happen, according to analysts, Sunday.
Later in the day, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un departed from the Russian Far East city of Artyom, completing his six-day visit to Russia, during which the two nations vowed to bolster partnerships focusing on military cooperation.
A bulletproof train carrying Kim at the Primorsky-1 railway station was seen off by an honor guard of the Eastern Military District and the military band of the headquarters of the Pacific Fleet, according to Russia's state-run Tass news agency. Since entering Russia last Tuesday for his first trip abroad in more than four years, Kim had met Russian President Vladimir Putin and visited key military and technology sites.
|North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is given a tour around Russia's strategic bombers and other warplanes by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, second from left, and other Russian officials in Vladivostok, Saturday, in this photo released by the North's official Korean Central News Agency, Sunday. Yonhap|
"I think there may be some cooperation on space programs and lower-level military kinds of exchanges and assistance. I do wonder though, how much sensitive technology Putin is willing to give to North Korea," Terence Roehrig, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, told The Korea Times, Sunday.
Although a much-heralded summit between North Korean leader Kim and Putin was held on Wednesday, North Korea still remains a question mark for Russia, Roehrig said.
"This is a short-term kind of relationship, which may not develop that deep, because what do the North Koreans have to offer the Russians?" he said.
The professor anticipates that some possible technological cooperation could be made concerning the modernization of North Korea's Navy and Air Force to some degree, focusing primarily on improving what North Korea already has.
On Saturday, Kim inspected Russia's key nuclear weapons including nuclear-capable bombers, hypersonic missiles and warships at the Knevichi airfield in Vladivostok, according to Pyongyang's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), as the North Korean leader continued his multi-day visit to the Russian Far East region since arriving there on Tuesday morning last week.
Later in the day, Kim was given a tour around Russia's Pacific Sea Fleet equipped with strategic nuclear submarines guided by Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
These tours around key elements of Russia's nuclear force, however, do not necessarily indicate that Russia will share its nuclear-related technologies with North Korea, said Jeong Jae-won, a professor of Eurasian studies at Kookmin University.
"Such a move would not only be a violation of the international non-proliferation treaty, but it would also spark a backlash from China," he said. "And arming its neighboring country with advanced nuclear weapons isn't something Russia would really want, given that it can be risky for Russia as well in the long term."
Neither Russia nor North Korea have shared details of Wednesday's summit, with no joint statements or agreements issued following the meeting.
|North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attends a show at the dolphinarium of the Primorsky Aquarium on Vladivostok's Russky Island, Sunday. Tass-Yonhap|
"Although it is highly rare for the Russian government not to release any official statements following a summit, it wasn't so surprising considering that the summit was focused on weapons trade," Jeong said.
Details on specifically which weapons technologies and information Russia will offer to North Korea may still be in the discussion stage, and will likely be decided in the coming weeks during the Russian foreign minister's envisaged trip to Pyongyang, according to the professor.
"The absence of documents means that arms trade will take place below the surface, but at the same time, it also suggests that Russia may not keep its promise about the transfer of weapons technology," Jeong said.
Jeong also said that Putin did not spare as much of his time as expected for his meeting with Kim than expected, indicating that Russia's relations with North Korea may not be a top priority for the Russian leader. After the summit and dinner, which lasted about four hours on Wednesday, Putin returned to Moscow, while Kim continued his visit in the region.
"From Russia's perspective, benefits from relations with North Korea are limited to ammunitions and artillery shells for the war in Ukraine," Jeong said, adding that Moscow will continue looking for other routes to receive conventional weapons rather than relying solely on Pyongyang.
South Korea's Ministry of Unification shared a similar analysis.
"The question is, what else can Russia expect from North Korea beyond acquiring artillery shells? In that context, there may be limitations to Russia's support for advanced military technology to North Korea," a senior ministry official told reporters, Thursday.
The official added that Russia would consider its relations with South Korea more important than that with the North in the long term, saying that the South Korean government will continue to monitor the developments in North Korea-Russia ties.