Rumors about the visit of the DPRK president of the State Affairs to the Russian Federation had been circulating before the announced visit, but in the author’s opinion, there is no correlation between these rumors and what happened afterwards.
On September 4, the New York Times, citing unnamed “American and allied officials”, reported that Kim Jong-un may soon travel to Russia to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss a possible arms deal. North Korea is seeking advanced technology for satellites and nuclear submarines from Russia in exchange for shells for the SMO. Also, the DPRK, which is under severe sanctions, needs food. The idea for the visit to Russia came up during Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu’s trip to the DPRK in July this year.
“Both leaders would be on the campus of Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok to attend the Eastern Economic Forum, which is scheduled to run Sept. 10 to 13, according to the officials.” It turns out that a delegation of about 20 North Korean officials secretly visited Vladivostok in late August, “including some who oversee security protocols for the leadership”. It then allegedly flew to Moscow.
The program included not only high-level talks at the Far Eastern Federal University campus on Russky Island, but also visits to Pacific Fleet bases and the Vostochny Cosmodrome, the newspaper reported.
The White House National Security Council (NSC) declined to confirm the upcoming talks at the EEF, but agreed with the idea that arms talks between Russia and the DPRK are actively progressing and Kim wants to continue discussing the arms deal through high-level contacts. Its Spokesperson Adrienne Watson confirmed this to the Yonhap News Agency on September 5, citing Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu’s trip to Pyongyang in July, which she said was aimed at persuading Pyongyang to sell artillery ammunition to Russia.
John Kirby, the NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications, previously warned that Pyongyang may be considering providing Russia with weapons and military equipment for use in the SMO, also noting that the leaders of North Korea and Russia may have discussed such deals in letters exchanged after Shoigu’s trip. Of course, Kirby did not say how the US obtained the intelligence that was declassified.
The Spokesperson for the US Department of State said in the same vein that a second group of Russian officials had departed for North Korea after Shoigu’s visit for “for follow-up discussions about potential arms deals”.
In this context, the US and ROK representatives said in different words, in general, the following: any arms deal between the DPRK and Russia would be a direct violation of a number of UN Security Council resolutions and “We urge the DPRK to cease its arms negotiations with Russia, and we are taking action directly to exposing and sanctioning individuals and entities working to facilitate arm deals between Russia and the DPRK”.
The Russian response was ambiguous. Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not confirm the information, but did not directly deny it either, saying he had nothing to say on the subject. The RIA Novosti news agency said local authorities in Primorye had not received official information about the possible visit. The management of the Far Eastern Railway has also not been given orders to prepare for the meeting of a special train. Pyongyang even more did not comment on the information about the visit.
But there was someone to deny the arms supplies. Russian Ambassador to the DPRK Alexander Matsegora pointed out that the allegations “are false from beginning to end”. First, “Russia is capable of solving the tasks of a special military operation in Ukraine without resorting to military supplies from the DPRK”. Second, the North is not supplying Russia with ammunition because it is itself in a pre-war situation. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also denied the fact of such supplies. The DPRK also called the reports about them lies. “We once again make clear that we have never had ’arms dealings’ with Russia and that we have no plan to do so in the future,” Pyongyang said.
It is worth recalling that representatives of the US administration announced the supply of North Korean arms to Russia as early as the end of December 2022. At that time, Kirby said that Pyongyang was supplying weapons to PMC “Wagner” through the Middle East and North Africa in order to conceal the fact of supply. In January 2023, Kirby showed an image that he said captured the transport of the first shipment of weapons (ammunition for infantry and missiles for PMC “Wagner”) by rail connecting Russia and the DPRK on November 19, 2022. However, the photo showed just a car, and the audience had to simply believe that there were shells and missiles inside.
Also recall that North Korea is under a comprehensive and indefinite UN embargo, which prohibits arms exports to and imports from the country, and was imposed in June 2006 by the UN Security Council. In June 2009, Security Council Resolution 1874 extended the embargo on all arms, with the exception of exports of small arms and light weapons to the country. In 2015, the UN Security Council expanded the embargo to include all small arms and light weapons.
On September 7, the false story was repeated by Japanese broadcaster NHK, citing an unnamed Russian government official. Moscow and Pyongyang were allegedly discussing preparations for a summit between the leaders of the two countries, and if an agreement is reached, the summit will be held at the Eastern Economic Forum.
On the same day, the ROK National Intelligence Service reported that Kim Jong-un may choose an unexpected route to travel to Russia, which is an extremely interesting statement given that the railway network in Primorye is not particularly dense. And the correspondent of Yonhap in Vladivostok Choi Soo-ho began to issue somewhat mutually exclusive articles about the place of the summit, either Vladivostok, or Khabarovsk or Amur region, or even Moscow. It’s like fortune-telling: if you guess the place, you’ll get fame as a fortune teller, if you don’t, with a good chance it will soon be forgotten.
On September 9, Dmitry Peskov again did not comment on the possibility of a meeting between the Russian head of state and the DPRK leader and NHK reported that the railway station in Vladivostok has been painted and the walls washed. What a clear sign!
On September 10, the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok opened, but there was no sign of the passage of a special train from the DPRK at railway stations in Vladivostok and the border town of Khasan.
On the morning of September 11 (Korean time), a Spokesperson for the ROK Ministry of Defence said, “there is a possibility of a meeting between Putin and Kim Jong-un,” while Dmitry Peskov told RTVI that there are no plans for Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un to meet at the EEF. At the same time, Peskov did not confirm or deny Kim Jong-un’s visit to Russia.
It was not until the afternoon of September 11 that several sources in the government of a constituent entity of the Far Eastern Federal District told Interfax that the North Korean leader “may visit the region as soon as possible” and “we have been preparing for Kim Jong-un’s visit for a long time”. At the same time, ROK intelligence agencies allegedly recorded an armored train, believed to be carrying Kim Jong-un, moving in a northeastern direction. Finally, the Kremlin press service said in a statement released on September 11 that Kim Jong-un would visit Russia “soon” for talks with President Vladimir Putin.
In the US, this sparked a new block of speculation about the impending deal and stern warnings not to do so. Jung Pak, Deputy US Special Representative for North Korea, said at a seminar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington that the decision to supply Moscow with ammunition of various kinds could be made. “This can only be seen as the next and maybe final step in a series of conversations between Russia and the DPRK to finalize a growing arms transfer relationship, in which Russia receives significant quantities and multiple types of munitions from the DPRK for the Russian military to use against Ukraine.”
Adrienne Watson, Spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, stressed that “as we have warned publicly, arms discussions between Russia and the DPRK are expected to continue during Kim Jong-Un’s trip to Russia” and called on the DPRK to “abide by the public commitments that Pyongyang has made to not provide or sell arms to Russia.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre recalled that “(An) arms deal between the DPRK and Russia would directly violate a number of UN Security Council resolutions. We urge the DPRK to cease its arms negotiations with Russia, and we are taking action directly to exposing and sanctioning individuals and entities working to facilitate arm deals between Russia and the DPRK.”
Moscow’s response was predictable. “As you know, still, in implementing our relations with our neighbors, including North Korea, it is the interests of our two countries that are important to us, not the warnings from Washington. It is on the interests of our two countries that we will orientate ourselves,” Dmitry Peskov said.
On September 12, the last point was put by the KCNA news agency: the Secretary-General of the WPK and Chairman of State Affairs of the DPRK, Respected Comrade Kim Jong-un, left Pyongyang by special train on the afternoon of September 10 for a visit to the Russian Federation at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin. It should be noted that he was seen off by Prime Minister Kim Tok-hun, about whose fate the South Korean media were worried recently.
That’s how Kim Jong-un’s real visit began, and the one described by the New York Times happened at the wrong time, with the wrong agenda, and in almost the wrong place. What was it then?
The first version is that journalists passed off as insider information what was in fact an assumption, the train of thought of which is not difficult to construct. Against the backdrop of strengthening relations between Moscow and Pyongyang, it will eventually come to a summit, and Kim is more likely to come to Russia than Putin to North Korea. It is also very reasonable to think that Kim will not travel far and the leaders’ meeting will be held in Vladivostok or Khabarovsk. And since Putin will be in the region for the forum, it is logical that Kim will arrive in the same days.
If, for some reason, the visit does not take place on the dates specified, it can be claimed that the date has been rescheduled after the insidious plan was exposed. As the author has noted several times, the mass consciousness remembers the forecast that has come true, while the forecast that has not come true remains the domain of caustic experts.
The second version involves classic misinformation designed to create a stir around the event. This is evidenced, in particular, by the fact that the editors were informed (as usual) about the forthcoming visit by anonymous but well-informed sources. According to the author’s personal impressions, the probability that someone who doesn’t want their name to be in the news is really hiding behind such wording is about 20 per cent. In other cases, this information came out of thin air.
And in this case it is not clear how exactly the information about the upcoming visit could get into the American newspaper, which has already repeatedly made sensations of similar origin, for example, about the millions of shells that the DPRK supplied to the PMC “Wagner”. Moreover, such “facts” were both unrealistic from a technical point of view because of the declared volumes and the limited number of ways that exist for such supply (recall that there is only one railway bridge between the DPRK and the Russian Federation), and did not match the statements of the late head of the PMC about shell famine.
From the author’s point of view, the dissemination of information about the summit where Kim and Putin would conclude a “shells for the SMO in exchange for food and technology” treaty had several purposes.
- To slow down the development of Russian-North Korean relations. With all the enemy voices saying that Kim is about to arrive and even speculating about a possible agenda for the visit, it is logical to take a pause and hold the talks in a freer environment. At the same time, “to fill two capitals with one can of ink”, because one of the signs of a rogue country is friendship with other rogue countries.
- To emphasize once again that without the help of the DPRK, Russia cannot move to decisive action against Ukraine.
- To “kick” in the right direction the leadership of South Korea, which still refuses to supply arms and military equipment to Ukraine. The logic is simple: if North Korea is already supplying weapons to Russia, South Korea also has the right to start helping Ukraine in a similar way.
- Most importantly, the hysteria surrounding hypothetical military cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang is designed to obscure or justify by no means hypothetical cooperation between Washington, Seoul and Tokyo.
The loud talk that Moscow-Beijing-Pyongyang have already formed, in the words of Western scholar Federico Giuliani, “a triangle of death” and are surely discussing something particularly insidious, is intended to obscure the fact that the formation of the southern triangle, from an institutional point of view, is much more advanced. The documents adopted at Camp David are a good basis for a military bloc, and the fact that they do not contain guarantees of military assistance is explained by the fact that they are stipulated in other documents that the US concluded with Japan and the ROK much earlier.
Nevertheless, here is a typical passage from the Korea Times: “Renewed military ties between Moscow and Pyongyang are a nightmare for Seoul. In 1950, the North started the Korean War, armed with former Soviet weaponry. Even more dangerous is China’s possible inclusion with the two, making it a three-way bloc against the three-nation “quasi-alliance” of the US, Japan and South Korea. That will turn back the clock on this divided peninsula to 73 years ago once more. Beijing might already have decided so, to counter Washington and outdo Moscow in influencing Pyongyang.”
Another article in the same newspaper notes “what the transfer of advanced weapons technology would mean for security on the Korean Peninsula. A sizable arms deal between Russia and North Korea would fundamentally change the dynamics for North Korea. Not only would the regime gain access to advanced weaponry, but with growing provisions of fuel and food from Moscow, it would significantly remove the pressure from UN economic sanctions. Given broader geopolitical trends we should expect China as well to lessen its enforcement of sanctions on North Korea.”
Or there is an option, even more dangerous than misinformation, which assumes that its authors know the state of affairs, but for propaganda purposes introduce a fake into the information space. In this case, the authors of this kind of news have long lived in an alternate reality in which “Russia is in dire need of North Korea’s artillery shells and missiles for its protracted war in Ukraine. Pyongyang wants Moscow’s technology for spy satellites, nuclear submarines and economic aid, including food.”
Therefore, regardless of whether there is evidence or not, the deal will be spoken of as a fait accompli, justifying very different actions. It was as part of the campaign to make a mountain out of a molehill that the summit thesis was introduced, which just seemed to coincide with the realities. But the outcome of this summit was different and, frankly, Washington and Seoul have a lot to worry about afterwards. But that is a topic for another article.
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”.