Putin arrives in North Korea, vows to boost cooperation and fight sanctions

Russian leader says he will work with Kim Jong Un to 'jointly oppose illegitimate unilateral restrictions.'
By Taejun Kang for RFA and RFA Korean
Taipei, Taiwan
Putin arrives in North Korea, vows to boost cooperation and fight sanctions Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, walks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at Pyongyang Airport, early on June 19, 2024.
Gavriil Grigorov/Sputnik/Pool via AFP

Updated on June 18, 2024 at 6:00 p.m. ET

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in North Korea in the wee hours Wednesday for a meeting with counterpart Kim Jong Un, promising hours before the visit that the two nations will develop an “alternative settlement system” to facilitate commercial cooperation outside the control of the West and fight its sanctions.

Putin descended the stairs from his plane, where Kim greeted him on the red carpet with a handshake and an embrace. Smiling, the two leaders chatted through interpreters before departing the airport by limousine.

Prior to his departure, Putin said in a commentary in North Korea’s state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper, that they would work together to bring more democracy and stability to international relations.

”We will develop alternative trade and mutual settlements mechanisms not controlled by the West, jointly oppose illegitimate unilateral restrictions and shape the architecture of equal and indivisible security in Eurasia,” he said.

Putin said Russia would ramp up exchanges and cooperation with North Korea in other areas such as education, tourism and culture.

“We are firmly convinced that we will put bilateral cooperation onto a higher level with our joint efforts,” he said.

Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov was cited by Russia’s TASS news agency as saying that Putin was expected to sign “important” documents with Kim on Wednesday that would  likely include a treaty on a comprehensive strategic partnership.

Putin Kim 4.JPG
Russian President Vladimir Putin, center left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un walk together after Putin's arrival in Pyongyang, early on June 19, 2024. (Vladimir Smirnov/Sputnik/Pool via AP)

He said the deal would not be directed against any other country but would “outline prospects for further cooperation, and will be signed taking into account what has happened between our countries in recent years - in the field of international politics, in the field of economics ... including, of course, taking into account security issues.”

Russia has been cozying up to North Korea since Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The United States has accused Russia of using North Korean weapons there, which North Korea and Russia deny.

Putin, in the newspaper commentary, extended his appreciation to North Korea for supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine and voiced his support for North Koreans’ struggle to defend their sovereignty against “the cunning, dangerous and aggressive enemy.”

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North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, left, walks with Russian President Vladimir Putin shortly after Putin's arrival in Pyongyang, early on June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov/Sputnik/Pool via AFP)

“We highly appreciate that the DPRK is firmly supporting the special military operations of Russia being conducted in Ukraine, expressing solidarity with us on major international issues and maintaining the common line and stand at the U.N.,” Putin said.

DPRK, or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, is North Korea’s official name. 

Citizens prepare

In preparation for Putin’s arrival, authorities decorated the streets of Pyongyang with banners, Russian flags and large portraits of Putin’s face.

But the preparations extended beyond the capital. Citizens in the northeastern port city of Chongjin were ordered to spruce up a monument commemorating the Soviets liberating North Korea from Japanese rule, and a cemetery for Soviet servicemen – neither of which are on Putin’s itinerary.

Until now, the city has never mobilized factory and company workers to clean up the Liberation Monument and the Cemetery of Soviet Servicemen,” a resident in Chongjin told RFA Korean on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

He said it was not clear to the citizens why they had to clean up the monuments, but on Monday they saw news of Putin’s visit, so they assumed that must be the reason.

Meanwhile in nearby Rason, home to a Russian and Chinese-invested special economic zone close to the borders with both countries, housewives were pressed into service to clean another Soviet tomb.

A resident there said that Russians almost never visit the site, but many believe that Rason will benefit economically in the aftermath of a Kim-Putin summit.

Putin ‘desperate,' US says

In Washington, the White House said it was troubled by the deepening relationship between Russia and North Korea, and the U.S. State Department said it was “quite certain” Putin would be seeking arms to support his war in Ukraine.

Putin Kim 3.JPG
North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, right, greets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Pyongyang, early on June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov/Sputnik/Pool via AFP)

U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller repeated charges on Monday that the North had supplied “dozens of ballistic missiles and over 11,000 containers of munitions to Russia” for use in Ukraine.

He said the U.S. had seen Putin “get incredibly desperate over the past few months” and look to Iran and North Korea to make up for equipment lost on the battlefield.

The visit is no surprise, according to Michael McCaul, the U.S. House of Representatives foreign affairs chairman.

Desperate for friends to fuel his genocidal war machine against Ukraine, Putin is increasingly turning to the rogue regimes of the world for help,” said McCaul. “His visit to North Korea is yet another effort to cement this unholy alliance against America, our friends, and our allies.”

The motorcades of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin are seen after Putin's arrival in Pyongyang, early on June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov/Sputnik/Pool via AFP)

The trip represents Putin’s commitment to contesting U.S. interests worldwide, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Jim Risch said.

This cooperation is particularly troublesome given the DPRK’s nuclear program and past record of aggression directed at U.S. allies in East Asia,” he said.

Japan was monitoring Putin’s visit to North Korea with concerns, including the possible transfer of weapons and related materials between Moscow and Pyongyang, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said.

“We will continue to work closely with the international community, including the United States and South Korea, to ensure the full implementation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions,” he said, noting that the security environment in the region had become more tense due to increased military cooperation between Russia and the North. 

Putin’s two-day trip comes as a reciprocal visit following Kim's visit to Russia's Far East in September last year where the two held a rare summit.

Putin last visited North Korea in July 2000, when he met its former leader Kim Jong Il, the late father of the current leader.

After North Korea, Putin will visit Vietnam on June 19-20, the Kremlin said. 

Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.

Update adds information about Putin's arrival and information about preparations for his visit.


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Michael R. Betzer
Jun 19, 2024 01:33 AM

Why is everyone so surprised? This visit turns the clock back to 1945, when Soviet forces swept into Korea to secure the surrender of Japanese soldiers. Oh, and they set up the Kingdom of North Korea while they were at it. Some things do NOT change.