SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspected Russia’s nuclear-capable bombers, hypersonic missiles and an advanced warship in his Pacific fleet on Saturday as he continued a trip to Russia’s Far East that has raised concerns in the West about an arming alliance that could fuel President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine.
After arriving by train in the city of Artyom, Kim traveled to an airport just outside the port city of Vladivostok, where Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and other senior military officials gave him a close look at Russia’s strategic bombers and other fighter jets.
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All of the Russian fighter jets shown to Kim on Saturday were of the types actively used in the war in Ukraine, including the Tu-160, Tu-95 and Tu-22 bombers, which regularly fired cruise missiles.
Shoigu and Lt. Gen. Sergei Kobylash, the commander of Russia’s long-range bomber force, told Kim that the Tu-160 had recently received new cruise missiles with a range of more than 6,500 kilometers (over 4,040 miles). Shoigu pointed to the weapons bay and said that each bomber carried twelve missiles.
Russian officials had previously said the new missile was under development, and recent comments confirmed its deployment for the first time.
Shoigu, who met Kim on a rare visit to North Korea in July, also showed Kim another of Russia’s newest missiles, the Kinzhal hypersonic missile, carried by the MiG-31 fighter jet, which saw its first wartime use in Ukraine Russian Ministry of Defense.
Kim and Shoigu later traveled to Vladivostok, where they inspected the frigate Admiral Shaposhnikov. Russian Navy commander Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov briefed Kim on the ship’s capabilities and weapons, which include long-range Kalibr cruise missiles that Russian warships have regularly fired at targets in Ukraine.
Kim’s visits to military and technology sites this week may hint at what he wants from Russia, perhaps in return for supplying munitions to replenish Putin’s dwindling reserves as his invasion of Ukraine turns into a protracted war of attrition.
Kim’s trip to Russia, which included more than four hours of talks with Putin on Wednesday, comes amid dynamics of military cooperation between the countries, where North Korea could potentially seek Russian technology in return to boost Kim’s nuclear, missile and other military programs to advance Russia with urgently needed ammunition.
Videos released by the Russian Defense Ministry showed Shoigu greeting Kim at the airport, along with honor guards lining up next to a red carpet. Kim glanced at the Kinzhal missile, gesticulating and asking questions about the fighters’ capabilities while discussing technical details with Shoigu and other military officials using translators.
Kim was also seen talking to Shoigu and Yevmenov about an alleged nuclear submarine that the North revealed last week as they disembarked from the Shaposhnikov frigate.
Later on Saturday, Kim visited a local theater to see Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s ballet performance “Sleeping Beauty,” Russian Ambassador to Pyongyang Alexander Matsegora was quoted as saying by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti. The agency said Kim left after the first act.
The visit follows Kim’s tour on Friday of a factory that makes modern Russian fighter jets.
Kim has in recent months stressed the need to strengthen his navy to counter the advanced naval assets of the United States, which has expanded its joint military exercises with South Korea to counter the growing threat from the North.
Analysts say Kim’s focus on naval strength may be driven by ambitions to obtain advanced technologies for ballistic missile submarines and nuclear submarines, as well as initiate joint naval exercises between Russia and North Korea.
After meeting with Putin at Russia’s main spaceport, a site that highlighted Kim’s desire for Russian support in his efforts to acquire space-based reconnaissance assets and missile technologies, North Korea’s leader appeared again on Friday in the far eastern city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, visiting a factory producing the Russian Su-57 fighter jets.
Experts said possible military cooperation between the countries could include efforts to modernize North Korea’s aging air force, which relies on fighter jets sent from the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
Kim’s trip to Russia, his first since April 2019 when he met Putin in Vladivostok, came days after he attended a ceremony at a North Korean military shipyard where the country unveiled the alleged nuclear submarine.
State media claimed it was capable of firing tactical nuclear weapons from the water. However, the South Korean military expressed doubts about the submarine’s operational capabilities, which were the result of redesigning an existing submarine to install missile launch tubes.
Kim has also announced goals for acquiring nuclear-powered submarines that can quietly travel long distances and approach enemy shores to carry out attacks – a key asset in his efforts to build a viable nuclear arsenal that could threaten the United States. Analysts say such capabilities would not be feasible for the North without external help.
Putin reiterated on Friday that Russia would abide by U.N. sanctions, some of which ban North Korea from exporting or importing weapons. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said separately that no agreements on bilateral military cooperation had been signed after the meeting between Putin and Kim on Wednesday.
Experts say North Korea and Russia are unlikely to publish arms agreements to avoid greater international criticism.
Kim, whose visit to Russia is his first foreign trip since the COVID-19 pandemic, has been eager to raise the visibility of his partnerships with Moscow and Beijing as he seeks to break out of international isolation and bring Pyongyang into a united front against Washington. Some South Korean experts say Kim may also seek a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
In another sign of the North’s opening up after the pandemic, KCNA said Saturday that a team of North Korean athletes left Pyongyang to take part in the Asian Games, which begin next week in Hangzhou, China. According to the South Korean government, around 190 North Korean athletes are registered for the event.
Since last year, the United States has accused North Korea of supplying Russia with ammunition, artillery shells and rockets, many of which are likely copies of Soviet-era munitions. South Korean officials said North Korean weapons supplied to Russia have already been used in Ukraine.
Source : www.pbs.org