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Kim Jong Un embarks on Russia-bound train for possible meeting with Putin

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A North Korean train, believed to carry North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has set off towards Russia, raising speculation about a potential meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

South Korean media sources reported this development on Monday, citing anonymous South Korean government insiders. It is suggested that the train left the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, on Sunday evening, and a Kim-Putin meeting could take place as early as Tuesday.

Additional reports from Yonhap news agency and other sources corroborate this information. Meanwhile, Japan’s Kyodo news agency referenced Russian officials who indicated that Kim might be en route to Russia aboard his personal train.

It’s important to note that neither North Korea nor Russia has officially confirmed the details of this journey. However, the Kremlin issued a statement today, affirming that Kim is expected to make an “official visit to the Russian Federation in the coming days,” extending an invitation from Putin himself.

The United States released intelligence last week, suggesting that North Korea and Russia were coordinating a leadership summit within this month as they intensify their cooperation amidst escalating tensions with the United States. U.S. officials believe that Putin may focus on securing additional supplies of North Korean artillery and ammunition, which would bolster dwindling stockpiles and exert further pressure on the West to engage in negotiations, particularly concerning the ongoing situation in Ukraine.

In return, Kim Jong Un could be seeking essential resources such as energy and food aid, as well as advanced weaponry technologies, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarines, and military reconnaissance satellites, according to a senior South Korean official who spoke with CBS News last week.

The latest public sighting of Kim Jong Un was in images released by North Korean state media just last week, where he attended the launch of what he hailed as North Korea’s inaugural “nuclear attack submarine.” While he claimed the vessel’s capability to launch nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, analysts quickly raised doubts about the credibility of these assertions.

There is growing concern that potential technology transfers from Russia could amplify the threat posed by Kim’s expanding arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles, which are designed to target the United States, South Korea, and Japan.

The evolving relationship between Russia and North Korea, which has been marked by complex and intermittent ties, has drawn them closer since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. This newfound bond is driven by Putin’s need for military assistance and Kim’s efforts to enhance his alliances with traditional allies like Moscow and Beijing while seeking to break out of diplomatic isolation, positioning North Korea as part of a unified front against Washington.

Since last year, the United States has accused North Korea of supplying arms to Russia, including artillery shells allegedly sold to the Russian mercenary group Wagner. Both Russian and North Korean officials have denied these claims. However, speculation about military collaboration between the two nations escalated after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made an unusual visit to North Korea in July. During his visit, Kim invited Shoigu to an arms exhibition and a massive military parade in the capital, where he showcased intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) designed to target the U.S. mainland.

Following Shoigu’s visit, Kim toured North Korea’s weapons facilities, including a facility producing artillery systems, where he encouraged workers to accelerate the development and mass production of new ammunition types. Experts suggest that Kim’s visits to these factories had a dual purpose: promoting the modernization of North Korean weaponry and exploring the possibility of exporting artillery and other supplies to Russia.

Some analysts believe that a potential meeting between Kim and Putin may be more symbolic than indicative of substantial military cooperation. Russia, known for closely guarding its critical weapons technologies, may be reluctant to engage in extensive technology transfers with North Korea for what is likely to be limited war supplies transported over a relatively small rail link connecting the two nations.

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