North Korean leader Kim Jong Un yesterday inspected a Russian fighter jet factory that is under Western sanctions, part of a visit Washington and its allies fear could strengthen Russia’s military in Ukraine and bolster Pyongyang’s missile programme.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kim discussed military matters, the war in Ukraine and deepening co-operation when they met on Wednesday.
South Korea and the US said yesterday that military co-operation between North Korea and Russia was a violation of UN sanctions against Pyongyang, and that the allies would ensure there is a price to pay.
Putin said Russia was ‘not going to violate anything’, but would keep developing relations with North Korea. His spokesman said no agreements had been signed during Kim’s visit on military issues or any other topic.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the US view before and after Kim’s visit was that “talks about the provision of weapons by North Korea to Russia, to kill Ukrainians, have been advancing and continued to advance”.
“We’re not going to take their word for that, or basically anything they say,” he told a White House Press briefing, when asked about the Russian statement. “We’ll see what actually ends up happening.”
“I can’t name a specific agreement for you today, but we take a look at that with a heavy grain of salt,” Sullivan added.
He said Russia, and China had legal obligations to uphold UN resolutions on North Korea.
“We have very real concerns based on what Russia has just done, that they are going to live up to their basic responsibility as a permanent member of the UN Security Council,” Sullivan said.
Kim, 39, visited aviation facilities in the far eastern city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, the Yuri Gagarin Aviation Plant and the Yakovlev plant, both units of United Aircraft Corporation, which is under Western sanctions.
At the Gagarin plant, which is also specifically under US sanctions, Kim inspected assembly workshops where the Sukhoi Su-35 multirole fighter and Su-57 fighter are made, escorted by Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov, the government said.
Kim, dressed in a suit and accompanied by North Korean military officials in uniform, was shown on Russian state television examining the cockpit of a fighter jet.
He then inspected workshops where the fuselage compartments and wing assemblies of Russia’s Sukhoi Superjet 100 are made before watching a demonstration flight of the Su-35. He nodded with approval as the fighter performed.
Russia has gone out of its way to publicise the visit and to drop repeated hints about the prospect of military co-operation with North Korea, which was formed in 1948 with the backing of the then-Soviet Union.
For Putin, who says Russia is locked in an existential battle with the West over Ukraine, courting Kim allows him to needle Washington and its Asian allies while potentially securing a deep supply of artillery for the Ukraine war.
Washington has accused North Korea of providing arms to Russia, which has the world’s biggest store of nuclear warheads, but it is unclear whether any deliveries have been made.
The US and South Korea fear the revival of Moscow’s friendship with Pyongyang could give Kim access to some of Russia’s sensitive missile and other technology.
Russian diplomats said Washington had no right to lecture Moscow after the US had bolstered its allies across the world, including with a visit of a US nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine to South Korea in July. The Kremlin says it abides by U.N. sanctions but that it has a right to develop neighbourly relations, including on sensitive topics.
Kim arrived in Russia on his special train on Tuesday, held a summit with Putin on Wednesday in Vostochny and appeared to have spent most of Thursday travelling before appearing in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, 6,000km east of Moscow.