19.09.2023 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

On Kim Jong-un’s visit to Russia. Part One: A synopsis of the summit

On Kim Jong-un’s visit to Russia. Part One: A synopsis of the summit

Kim Jong-un’s visit to Russia is still ongoing as the author is writing these lines, yet the audience urges him (the author, not Kim) not to put off dissecting the event’s most important moments and results. The visit of the DPRK leader to the Russian Federation will therefore be covered in several parts. He (still the author) will need to discuss the misleading news that circulated prior to the visit and how it was received in South Korea, at the very least. He will also go into more detail on what was planned for the visit and what, contrary to expectations, most likely wasn’t.

So, on the afternoon of September 10, 2023, the DPRK leader’s armored train set off from Pyongyang toward Russia. The day before, celebrations were held to mark the 75th anniversary of the formation of the DPRK, where Russia was represented by the Alexandrov Ensemble (the Red Army Choir). Following the July visit of a military-government delegation led by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, many believed that someone from the Russian leadership would attend the celebrations, yet neither the August 15 Korean Liberation Day nor September 9 ceremonies were attended by any Russian high officials, which prompted a few “experts on Pyongyang” to talk about a cooling in relations.

The visit was therefore even more surprising when it began because despite information that Kim Jong-un was due in the Far East within the next few days, first started to appear only on September 11. Initially, it came from anonymous sources, but then both the Kremlin and the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) responded. The DPRK leader was accompanied by a large delegation, including Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui, Vice Chairman of the Party’s Central Military Commission Ri Pyong Chol, Director of the Party’s Military Administration Department Pak Jong-chon, Director of the Military Industry Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea’s Central Committee Jo Chun-ryong, Commander of the Korean People’s Army Navy Kim Myong-sik, and Secretaries of the Workers’ Party of Korea Oh Soo-yong and Park Tae-sung, who are in charge of economy and space, science, and education. Kim’s journey to Russia was his first in about four and a half years, and his first abroad since the COVID-19 pandemic breakout.

Kim Jong-un arrived at the Khasan station in Russia’s Primorsky Krai on September 12 for a welcoming ceremony. In Khasan, Kim was welcomed by Oleg Kozhemyako, Governor of Primorsky Krai, and Alexander Kozlov, Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology of the Russian Federation, who previously served as Minister for the Development of the Far East and the Arctic

After a brief halt, the train headed north, raising the possibility that the meeting between the Russian president and the leader of North Korea might take place in Khabarovsk or the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Amur Region rather than Vladivostok. Speaking with them, Kim Jong-un stated that his first foreign trip since the global health crisis is to Russia and that it is “a clear manifestation of our party and government’s stance of paying great attention to the strategic importance of Korea-Russia relations.”

The purpose of Kim Jong-un’s visit to Russia was described by the KCNA as “promoting the relations of friendship and cooperation between North Korea and Russia to a new height.”

The train went via Ussuriysk but did not arrive in Vladivostok, where Putin was scheduled to attend the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) on Monday. The summit was held at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Amur region, which was bound to draw attention since North Korea failed to launch a reconnaissance satellite twice.

According to Putin, “the DPRK leader has shown great interest in rocket technology, which is why the summit had been chosen to be held at the cosmodrome.” When asked if military-technical cooperation would be considered at the discussions, Russian President Vladimir Putin replied: “Let’s talk about all the issues at a leisurely pace. There’s time.”

And Dmitry Peskov described the future visit as follows: “discussions will be held on bilateral relations, cooperation, trade, economic ties, and cultural exchanges…” “Naturally, there will be an exchange of views on the regional situation and international affairs in general, as this is of interest to both Putin and our guest from Pyongyang.”

Prior to the meetings, Putin and Kim Jong-un saw the new cosmodrome’s facilities, including the Angara space launch vehicle assembly shop, the Soyuz-2 launch complex, and the Angara launch complex, which is still under development. The North Korean leader put a message in the honor guest book: “Russia’s glory as the country of the first space explorers will never fade.” The heads were accompanied by the Deputy Chairman of the Government – Presidential Envoy to the Far East Yury Trutnev, Director General of Roscosmos Yuri Borisov, and Director General of the Centre for the Operation of Ground-Based Space Infrastructure Nikolai Nestechuk

Despite the leadership’s being busy with state activities, Kim Jong-un thanked Putin for the kind invitation and the meeting, adding that he was glad that it was held in a very special environment.

During the trip, Putin showed Kim Jong-un Aurus cars from his motorcade.

And now for the main event of the visit. “Putin, who is known for being late to summits, waited for Kim at the venue for 30 minutes,” according to ROK media. “We need to talk about economic cooperation, humanitarian issues, and the situation in the region,” Russian President Vladimir Putin stated at the start of the meeting.

Kim, for his part, promised Putin that his visit to Russia was scheduled at a “special time.” “Russia has now risen to a sacred struggle to defend its state sovereignty and its security against the hegemonic forces that oppose Russia.” The ROK saw this as an endorsement of the Special Military Operation.

According to Kim Jong-un, Pyongyang wants to enhance ties with Moscow and supports Russian government policies. “I hope that we will always stand together in the struggle against imperialism and [in] building a sovereign state,” and here the author should make a key point: “juche,” the essence of North Korean ideology, is best translated as “sovereignty.”

Putin again emphasized the “special timing” of the leaders’ meeting: The DPRK celebrated its 75th anniversary on September 9. Furthermore, “it was our country that was the first to recognize a sovereign and independent state—the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” Putin emphasized. On October 12, 1948, the USSR was the first to establish diplomatic ties with the DPRK, and North Korea officially recognized Russia as the Soviet Union’s successor.

Kim also pointed out that the USSR played a great role in the establishment and building of the independence of the DPRK, the friendship between the two countries has deep roots and that “prioritizing Korea-Russia relations and the continued development of the long-standing traditions of friendship are the consistent position of the government of our Republic,” and expressed confidence that “this visit will serve as a significant moment to raise the cooperation between the two countries to a new level.” According to one interpretation, this statement signals a shift in focus from Beijing to Moscow, but there is also another that reads, “Everything is fine in the Chinese direction, but the Russian direction should be tightened up and made a priority.”

Kim also thanked Putin for inviting him to Russia and for the opportunity to visit the Vostochny Cosmodrome, which he called “the heart of a space power.”

The conversation between the Russian president and the leader of the DPRK lasted for more than an hour, and it took four to five hours overall. The two leaders reportedly had a private conversation about military cooperation.

The description of the negotiations from the KCNA is vague. They “discussed the issue of further consolidating relations of friendship, solidarity, and cooperation, strengthening mutual trust by deepening comprehensive exchange and cooperation in various spheres, including high-level contacts between the two countries.” The phrase “a broad and in-depth exchange of views was held on issues of mutual interest, and agreements were reached to promote, through joint efforts, the well-being of the peoples of the two countries and the further expansion of comprehensive, constructive bilateral relations” can mean anything and can be used to describe anything.

However, the open talks were definitely not a discussion of devious plans, as can be seen from the composition of the participants: in addition to military and diplomats from the Korean side, they were attended by Oh Soo-yeon and Park Tae-sung, and from the Russian side – Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov, Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk, Deputy Prime Minister – Presidential Envoy to the Far East Yuri Trutnev, Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration – Presidential Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, the chairman of the Russian side of the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation between Russia and DPRK, Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology of Russia Alexander Kozlov, Minister of Transport of the Russian Federation Vitaly Saveliev. Such a list makes it simple to presume that collaboration on infrastructure projects and space exploration, particularly the eagerly anticipated building of a cross-border highway bridge in addition to the railroad bridge, were probably discussed.

According to the reports of the KCNA, another conclusion can be drawn: during the talks, the DPRK attempted to present the alliance between Moscow and Pyongyang as an alliance not so much determined by a common threat as by shared values of the struggle for sovereignty against American hegemony. The Agency emphasizes “important issues in furthering tactical and strategic cooperation between the two countries, resolute support and solidarity on the joint front to thwart military threats and provocations, arbitrariness and willfulness of the imperialists trying to disrupt the independence, progress, and peaceful life of mankind, in defending by united forces the sovereignty and development interests of both countries, regional and global peace and security.”

After the talks, on September 13, the Russian president hosted a reception in honor of the visit of the secretary general of the Workers’ Party of Korea. In his speech, he once again welcomed “Russia’s chief guest and Korean friends,” referred to the history of Russian-Korean relations as being “tied by friendly, comradely, and kind ties,” and reaffirmed the Russian government’s readiness to make unceasing efforts for the cause of developing relations between the two countries.

In his response speech, Kim Jong-un expressed his happiness at returning to the Russian Federation after a hiatus of four years and five months, when he met President Putin and “sat down at the same momentous table full of a sense of comradely friendship.” The North Korean leader raised a toast to Putin’s health, the victory of “great Russia,” and the friendship between North Korea and Russia, saying, “We confidently believe that the Russian army and people will achieve a great victory in a just struggle to punish the evil forces pursuing hegemonic and expansionist ambitions and create a stable environment for national development.”

Following the reception, Comrade Kim Jong-un “respectfully invited President Putin to visit the DPRK at any time convenient for him.” The invitation was accepted

It was immediately known that there would be no press conference or signing of statements at the end of the visit. The Russian side clarified this by stating that “sensitive areas” that shouldn’t be declared or made public will also be touched upon, via Peskov.

Some of the results are, however, already known. The author will study them in depth in one of the future texts, but we can definitely talk about the confirmed visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to the DPRK (it will probably take place in October) and the resumption of the activity of the Intergovernmental Commission. Putin’s remark about Kim’s interest in missile technology will clearly have a practical outcome.

On the same day, September 13, 2023, the special train left for the “next destination,” and the North Korean leader arrived in Komsomolsk-on-Amur early the next morning, September 15. According to TASS, he was greeted at the station by Governor of Khabarovsk Krai Mikhail Degtyaryov and Komsomolsk-on-Amur Mayor Alexander Zhornik. Kim Jong-un went to view the city’s aircraft manufacturing plants right away, escorted by Denis Manturov.

The DPRK leader toured the fighter aircraft assembly plant and the final assembly shop for Su-35 and Su-57 aircraft at the Yuri Gagarin Aviation Plant. The guests were introduced to digital technology utilized in the building of contemporary airplanes at the enterprise’s design department. Kim was then introduced to the work on the Superjet 100 passenger plane. The delegation paid a visit to the Superjet-100 final assembly shop at the UAC-Yakovlev Civil Aviation Division. Kim Jong-un was shown a flight of the Su-35 multirole fighter jet at the end of the program.

Kim Jong-un is scheduled to go to Vladivostok on September 16, where he will meet with the commander of the Russian Pacific Fleet, travel to the Far Eastern Federal University, and tour a number of marine biology-related sites managed by the Russian Academy of Sciences. Reportedly, in the Primorye capital, he will be accompanied by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

 It’s interesting that Dmitry Peskov omitted to say how long the leader of the DPRK’s visit will last. “We feel that saying that instead of the North Korean viewpoint would be inaccurate. That’s their prerogative. So I will not answer it.”

There goes the armored train through the valleys and over the hills. Before the visit is over and Kim returns to Pyongyang, we’ll talk about the demonization of the event and how the US media concocted an alternative visit that caused quite a stir but happened in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong agenda somewhere in an alternate reality.


Konstantin Asmolov, Candidate of Historical Sciences, Leading research fellow of the Center for Korean Studies at the Institute of China and Modern Asia of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

Related articles: