Vladimir Putin hosts Kim Jong Un at Russian space centre

Published Sep 13, 2023


Moscow, Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for talks on Wednesday that could see them forge an arms deal that would defy global sanctions.

Putin said he was “very glad” to see Kim, Russian state television reported, after Kremlin footage showed the pair shaking hands enthusiastically at the Vostochny Cosmodrome spaceport in the far east of Russia.

While Kim was in Russia, Pyongyang fired two ballistic missiles on Wednesday, the South Korean military said, the latest in a string of sanctions-busting tests.

Experts say Russia will likely use the talks to seek artillery shells and antitank missiles from North Korea, which wants advanced satellite and nuclear-powered submarine technology in return.

“We’ll talk about all the issues, without haste. There is time,” Putin said, when asked by reporters whether military co-operation would be on the agenda.

Kim, who travelled overland to Russia in his bullet-proof train, was accompanied by an entourage that suggested the summit would have a strong military focus.

Among the top military officials accompanying Kim were Korean People’s Army Marshal Pak Jong Chon and Munitions Industry Department Director Jo Chun Ryong, according to the North’s state media.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu took part in the talks with Kim, as did Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, images on Russian state television showed.

Ahead of the announcement of the talks, Russian news agencies published images of Kim and Putin touring the vast space centre.

“The leader of the DPRK shows great interest in rocket technology, and they are trying to develop (their presence in) space,” Putin said, referring to North Korea by its official name.

Kim thanked Putin for inviting him to visit, despite the Russian leader’s “busy schedule”.

Kim had earlier stressed the trip – his first post-pandemic foreign travel – showed North Korea was “prioritising the strategic importance” of its Russia ties.

The meeting at the cosmodrome is symbolic, especially as Pyongyang failed twice recently in its bid to put a military spy satellite into orbit, experts said.

Russia is eager for North Korea’s stockpile of artillery shells, while Pyongyang is looking for help with satellite technology and upgrading its Soviet-era military equipment, An Chan-il, a defector-turned-researcher who runs the World Institute for North Korea Studies, told AFP.

“If North Korea’s multiple rocket launchers and other artillery shells are provided to Russia in large quantities, it could have a significant impact on the war in Ukraine,” he said.

Russia’s natural resources minister Alexander Kozlov greeted Kim when he arrived in the country, giving him historic autographed photographs of Soviet cosmonauts, including Yuri Gagarin, Kozlov’s ministry told TASS.

The White House warned last week that North Korea would “pay a price” if it supplies Russia with weaponry for the conflict in Ukraine.

Kim is also risking the displeasure of his other major ally Beijing by meeting Putin, Vladimir Tikhonov, professor of Korean studies at the University of Oslo, told AFP.

“China will be hardly too happy about Russia entering into what Chinese consider their monopoly territory,” he said, adding Beijing would be worried about the regional destabilisation impact of any transfer of Russian military technology to Pyongyang.

Kim and Putin “may conduct an exchange of North Korea’s old-age, Soviet-type ammo for Russia’s newer military tech or hard currency (or wheat).

“Tactically, they both gain, by getting what they need right now. In a longer term though, Russia's important ties to Seoul will be dealt irreparable damage.”


Since 1998 North Korea has launched six satellites, two of which appeared to have been successfully placed in orbit.

In 2015, a senior North Korean space official said the country wanted to develop co-operation with Russia on “peaceful” use of outer space, the official told TASS.

The most recent successful satellite launch was in 2016. International observers said that satellite seemed to be under control, but there was lingering debate over whether it had sent any transmissions.

Another senior official at North Korea’s space agency said after the 2016 launch that it planned to put more advanced satellites into orbit by 2020 and eventually “plant the flag of (North Korea) on the moon”.

During a party congress in January 2021, Kim revealed a wish list that included developing military reconnaissance satellites.

The Chollima-1 seems to be a new design and most likely uses the dual-nozzle liquid-fuelled engines developed for Pyongyang’s Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which has roots in Soviet designs, analysts said.

South Korea has recovered some of the Chollima-1 wreckage – including, for the first time, parts of a satellite.

Seoul said the satellite had little military value, though analysts said any working satellite in space would provide North Korea with better intelligence on its enemies.

“To the best of our knowledge, North Korea has a very limited capacity to building satellites,” said Brian Weeden of the Secure World Foundation, a US-based space policy and security organisation. “None of them appeared to have any significant capability."


The US and its allies called North Korea’s latest satellite tests clear violations of UN Security Council resolutions, which prohibit development of technology applicable to North Korea’s ballistic missile programmes.

UN resolutions – passed with Russia’s support – also ban any scientific and technical co-operation with North Korea in nuclear science and technology, aerospace and aeronautical engineering and technology, or advanced manufacturing production techniques and methods.

North Korea has said its space programme and defence activities are its sovereign right.

At the time of the 2016 space launch, North Korea had yet to fire an ICBM. The satellite launch was condemned by governments in the US and South Korea as a disguised test of missile technology capable of striking the continental US.

Since 2016, North Korea has developed and launched three types of ICBMs, and now appears committed to placing working satellites in space. That would not only provide it with better intelligence on its enemies, but prove it could keep up with other growing space powers in the region, analysts said.

Putin’s comments before meeting Kim at Vostochny Cosmodrome may suggest Russia will seek to teach North Korea how to build satellites, rather than building them for North Korea, said Lee Choon Geun of South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute.

It is unlikely that Russia can launch a satellite on North Korea’s behalf, but if it does so, that violates UN restrictions, Lee said.

“Any form of satellite technology transfers or co-ordination between Russia and North Korea could be against international sanctions,” he said. “There is no workaround.”

AFP & Reuters