SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un peered into the cockpit of Russia’s most advanced fighter jet as he toured an aircraft factory Friday on an extended and rare foreign trip that has raised concerns about banned weapons transfer deals between increasingly isolated countries.
Since entering Russia aboard his armored train on Tuesday, Kim has met President Vladimir Putin and visited weapons and technology sites, underscoring deepening ties between the nations locked in separate confrontations with the West. Foreign governments and experts speculate Kim will likely supply ammunition to Russia for its war efforts in Ukraine in exchange for receiving advanced weapons or technology from Russia.
Earlier Friday, Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti published video showing Kim’s train pulling into a station in the far eastern city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur and Kim’s convoy sweeping out of the station shortly afterward.
Later, the region’s governor posted on social media pictures showing Kim at the aircraft factory, looking at the Su-57, Russia’s most sophisticated fighter jet, and shaking hands with a pilot. One photo showed a demonstration flight of a Su-35, another Russian fighter jet manufactured at the plant.
The governor, Mikhail Degtyarev, said Kim’s late father, Kim Jong Il, also visited the plant in 2002.
“Our fathers and grandfathers jointly fought against the Japanese militarism, our country supported North Korea in its fight against the U.S. imperial ambitions in the 1950s and now we are jointly resisting Western pressure,” he said. “I’m sure that our countries will keep upholding the ideals of freedom and the multipolar world through our joint efforts.”
Besides Degtyarev, Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov accompanied Kim to the plant. According to a Russian Cabinet statement, Kim visited a facility producing Sukhoi SJ-100 passenger planes as well.
“We have shown one of our leading aircraft plants to the leader of (North Korea),” Manturov said in the statement. “We are seeing potential for cooperation in the aircraft-making and other industries, which is particularly acute for solving our countries task of achieving technological sovereignty.”
Kim is to travel next to Vladivostok to view Russia’s Pacific fleet, a university and other facilities, Putin told Russian media after he met with Kim.
Experts say in return for helping Putin replenish war supplies, Kim would seek Russian help to modernize his air force and navy, which are inferior to those of rival South Korea while Kim has devoted much of his own resources to his nuclear weapons program.
The summit between Kim and Putin on Wednesday took place at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, Russia’s most important domestic launch center. North Korea has struggled to put into space an operational spy satellite to monitor U.S. and South Korean military movements.
Asked if Russia and North Korea could cooperate in space research, Putin said: “That’s why we have come here. (Kim) shows keen interest in rocket technology. They’re trying to develop space, too.”
Putin, for his part, would want to receive ammunition, artillery shells and even ballistic missiles from North Korea to replenish his exhausted arms inventory in the second year of Russia’s war in Ukraine, foreign experts say.
Since last year, the U.S. accused North Korea of providing ammunition, artillery shells and rockets to Russia, likely much of them copies of Soviet-era munitions. South Korean officials said North Korean weapons provided to Russia have already been used in Ukraine.
On Thursday evening, the national security advisers of the U.S., South Korea and Japan talked by phone and expressed “serious concerns” about prospective weapons deals between Russia and North Korea. They warned Russia and North Korea would “pay a clear price” if they go ahead with such deals, according to South Korea’s presidential office.
The White House said the three national security advisers noted that any arms export from North Korea to Russia would directly violate multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, including resolutions that Russia, a permanent member of the U.N. council, itself voted to adopt. They reiterated their cooperation toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as well, according to a White House statement.
South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho warned Thursday that potential arms transfers between the North and Russia would invite stronger responses from South Korea, the U.S. and Japan, which have been stepping up their trilateral security cooperation to cope with regional threats.
Some analysts question how much Russia would be willing to share its closely guarded high-tech weapons technologies with North Korea in return for its conventional arms. But others say Russia would so because of its urgent need to refill its drained reserves.
Putin told reporters that Russia and North Korea have “lots of interesting projects” in spheres like transportation and agriculture and that Moscow is providing its neighbor with humanitarian aid. But he avoided talking about military cooperation, saying only that Russia is abiding by the sanctions prohibiting procuring weapons from North Korea.
North Korea’s state media said Thursday that Kim invited Putin to visit North Korea at a “convenient time.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later said that Putin had accepted the invitation and that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to visit North Korea in October.
During Wednesday’s summit, Kim vowed “full and unconditional support” for Putin in what he described as a “just fight against hegemonic forces to defend its sovereign rights, security and interests,” in an apparent reference to the war in Ukraine.
Information on Kim’s trip to Russia is largely from the two nations’ official media outlets. North Korean media did not provide updates Friday on Kim’s activities. They typically report on Kim’s activities a day later, apparently to meet the need for North Korean propaganda to glorify Kim.
Burrows reported from London.