05.10.2023 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

On Kim Jong-un’s Visit to Russia, Part Three: Putin Left, Kim Stayed

Putin Left, Kim Stayed

Kim Jong-un’s visit turned out to be the DPRK leader’s longest trip outside the country. Although Vladimir Putin left for Moscow after the summit, Kim continued his trip around Primorye, combining pleasant and useful.

The previous article ended with Kim’s arrival in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. The DPRK leader was met at the railway station by the Russian Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology Alexander Kozlov, the Governor of Khabarovsk Krai Mikhail Degtyarev and the head of Komsomolsk-on-Amur Alexander Zhornik. Mikhail Degtyarev showed the DPRK leader Kim Jong-un a 1984 special issue of Korea magazine about his grandfather Kim Il-sung’s visit to the USSR.

Then the DPRK leader visited the Yuri Gagarin Aviation Plant, which produces modern fighter jets, including the Su-35. The plant was founded in 1934 and during the Great Patriotic War it contributed greatly to the destruction of fascism by producing various aircraft, including long-range bombers. This plant is the largest enterprise among the Su-family fighter production plants in Russia and the main base of the Russian defense and aviation industry, which produces the fifth-generation Su-57 fighter and other fighter and passenger aircraft.

The Chairman of State Affairs visited the designing institute, fighter jet fuselage assembly shop, wing production shop and airliner assembly shop, the KCNA reported. At the fighter jet fuselage assembly shop, Comrade Kim Jong-un met with test pilots, listening to a detailed explanation of the technical characteristics of the fifth-generation fighter. He sat in the cockpit of the Su-57 fighter and passenger aircraft, watched a demonstration flight of the Su-35 fighter and, as is customary, “had a souvenir photo taken with the accompanying officials of the two countries in front of Su-27 and Su-30 fighter jets on display in the compound of the plant,”, as well as left an entry in the book of honored guests to commemorate the visit: “Witnessing the rapid development of Russia’s aviation technology and its gigantic potential.”

Judging by the photo and the emotions of the DPRK leader, Kim Jong-un was indeed “deeply impressed by the rich independent potential and modernity of the Russian aircraft manufacturing industry and its ceaseless enterprising efforts toward new goals”, and “expressed sincere regard for Russia’s aviation technology undergoing rapid development, outpacing the outside potential threats.

On September 16-17, Kim Jong-un stayed in Vladivostok. At 9 a.m. local time on September 16, his special train arrived at the Artyom-Primorsky railway station 45 km from Vladivostok. Kim was met by the head of the intergovernmental commission of the Russian Federation and the DPRK, Minister of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation Alexander Kozlov, the head of Primorye Oleg Kozhemyako, the mayor of Artyom Oleg Kwon and other officials, with Kozlov and Kozhemyako accompanying the DPRK leader on almost all items of the agenda.

Kim Jong-un then arrived at Knevichi airfield in Vladivostok, where he was met by the Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and other representatives of Russia’s military leadership, including Deputy Minister of Defense for Military and Technical Affairs Alexei Krivoruchko, Navy Commander-in-Chief Nikolai Yevmenov and Long Range Aviation Commander Sergei Kobylash.

At the airfield in Knevichi, Kim Jong-un was shown:

  • three strategic aviation aircraft of the Russian Air and Space Forces Tu-160, Tu-95MS and Tu-22M3 capable of carrying nuclear weapons
  • Su-34, Su-30SM, Su-35S fighters and Su-25SM3 attack aircraft
  • MiG-31I missile carrier equipped with the Kinzhal hypersonic missile system
  • Tu-214 long-haul passenger aircraft

The crew commanders told Kim about the combat capabilities of these machines, so with a trip to the Gagarin plant in mind, the DPRK leader got a detailed picture of the Russian Air Force’s capabilities.

Kim Jong-un then visited the Pacific Fleet base, where he and Sergei Shoigu arrived at the Pacific Fleet frigate Marshal Shaposhnikov, which recently underwent a comprehensive modernization. With the new armament, the frigate is capable of not only effectively fighting modern enemy submarines, but also of engaging surface enemies at long ranges, as well as launching precision strikes against coastal objects and objects located at a considerable distance from the coastline.

Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, told about the characteristics of the ship and anti-submarine armament located on the upper deck and superstructures – four-tube torpedo tubes and RBU-6000 jet bombers. Kim Jong-un was then shown modern missile weapons control systems (Uran anti-ship missile systems and Kalibr universal cruise missile systems) located at the ship’s central command center. The DPRK leader also got acquainted with the navigation equipment ensuring safety of navigation.

Here it is worth noting a point that is not clear to everyone, but it is an important one. Kim has a military education, military-technical (artillery intelligence) to be precise, so his inspections of military plants are full of substantive questions, and he conducted a tour of the arms exhibition for Sergei Shoigu as a man passionate about the subject. In this context, the demonstration of the military potential of the Russian Armed Forces should not be considered a show-off; rather, it is a response to the tour of the arms exhibition arranged for Shoigu and an occasion to talk substantively about some details of military and technical cooperation.

According to the KCNA, Kim Jong-un “highly appreciated that Pacific Fleet servicemen are making great a contribution to peace and security in Northeast Asia and worldwide, displaying courageous fighting spirit and heroism.” As a memento of his visit to the Pacific Fleet, he handed over a gift and left a review in the book of honored visitors of the warship: “The victorious seafaring that has defended justice and peace does not fade. With respect to the Pacific Fleet” and received a model of the warship as a gift.

Then there was lunch and negotiations, during which the Chairman of State Affairs shared with Minister of Defense Shoigu opinions on the regional and international military and political situation, exchanged constructive views on the business issues arising in the further strengthening of tactical and strategic interaction and cooperation, mutual exchange between the armed forces and in the field of defense security of the two countries – the DPRK and the Russian Federation.

On the evening of September 16, Kim watched the ballet “Sleeping Beauty” on the Mariinsky Theatre’s Primorsky stage together with Vladivostok residents. It is stated that the delegation entered the auditorium shortly after the third bell rang. The DPRK leader highly appreciated the performance, which vividly showed the impacting power of ballet in a beautiful and graceful artistic portrayal, expressed his deep appreciation to the performers and the theatre administration, and the author wants to draw attention to an interesting point. Kim Jong Il loved Russian culture and, for example, the Igor Moiseyev State Academic Folk Dance Ensemble travelled to the North almost every year. Kim Jong-un had shown no such interest in Russian culture, so it was interesting whether the ballet visit was part of the agenda on the Russian or Korean side.

September 17 was also a busy day. In the morning, Kim Jong-un visited the campus of Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU). FEFU, located on Vladivostok’s Russky Island, is a major universal center of science, education and research with 27 institutes and 47 faculties, 400-plus research centers and laboratories. The university is the pride of the Far East and the place where the DPRK leader held his first talks with President Putin in April 2019.

The DPRK leader heard the FEFU rector explain the scale and system of education at the university, its further development program, and also inspected the stand of the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic of the Russian Federation inherited from the Eastern Economic Forum held last week. There, he was presented with a model of the FEFU campus and told about the development of a unique scientific facility, the Russian Photon Source (RPS). In 2027, it is planned to build the first four stations of the RPS facility to solve the science-intensive economic problems of the Far East.

Afterwards, Kim Jong-un met with the North Korean students of FEFU and said that the Motherland was waiting and wished them success in their studies, noting that they should study and try harder and become capable scientific and technological personnel, revolutionary workforce, making solid contributions to the flourishing and prosperity of our great state. Then he had a souvenir photo taken with them.

The next stop was the Primorsky Oceanarium, opened in 2016. Although it is sometimes perceived as an entertainment center, it is part of the National Scientific Centre of Marine Biology of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a scientific and educational complex. The DPRK leader not only watched a performance of marine mammal animals with the participation of bottlenose dolphins, beluga whales, walrus and sea lions (and judging by the photos, was very pleased and interested), including a beluga whale, but also toured the oceanarium as a science institution.

Then Alexander Kozlov and Oleg Kozhemyako hosted a reception, at which Alexander Kozlov once again expressed in his speech his gratitude to Kim for visiting Vladivostok and expressed his will to further expand cooperation between the two countries. In his response speech, Park Tae Sung, Secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (in charge of science, education, and space exploration) conveyed his sincere greetings to the Russian government and people who had put their hearts and efforts into making the current visit a success.

Then or earlier, Oleg Kozhemyako presented Kim Jong-un with a set of armor for assault operations. It consists of an armor vest developed and produced in Primorsky Krai with protection zones for the chest, shoulders, throat and groin, while being significantly lighter than known analogues. The DPRK leader was also presented with five kamikaze drones, a reconnaissance drone of the aircraft type “Geran-25” with a vertical take-off function (these drones are also made in Primorye) and a set of special clothes, invisible for thermal imaging cameras.

On the afternoon of September 17, Kim Jong-un visited Arnika, an enterprise engaged in the production of feed bio-additives.  The Arnika Research and Production Group has been supplying feed and food raw materials and ingredients for 30 years. The DPRK leader heard an overview explanation of the enterprise and inspected various production processes, then had a warm conversation with the management of the enterprise. In fact, it was an important part of the visit, given the attempts to develop animal husbandry.

At this point, the Chairman of State Affairs successfully completed his official friendly visit to the Russian Federation and a seeing-off ceremony was held at Artyom station, where the DPRK leader “extended his heartfelt thanks to President Putin and the Russian leadership and people for their special care and cordial hospitality in every place during the whole period of his visit to Russia, wishing Russia prosperity and its people well-being.”

From the Russian point of view, according to Ambassador Alexander Matsegora, everything went “absolutely as we planned. All items of the agenda were fully implemented. And when we saw Comrade Kim Jong-un off, I think, as it seemed to me, he was satisfied.”

In general, special thanks should be extended to the Russian Embassy in Pyongyang, whose staff has been reduced to 18 people in three years of Covid-19 (a reduction by a factor of more than 10 as compared to the pre-pandemic times). Nevertheless, Alexander Matsegora, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and his team managed to organize such an important event, even though “frankly speaking, we had to prepare it quite quickly.

At dawn on September 18, the special train passed the border station Tumangan, having “run” across Russia more than 4,000 kilometers (the length of the Baikal-Amur Mainline or three journeys from St. Petersburg to Moscow and back). It was Kim’s longest foreign trip since coming to power. Including travelling time, the North Korean leader spent eight days on his visit to Russia.

But how did the trip end, apart from Kim’s smile and lack of final documents? There are none, but the results of the visit turned out to be quite fruitful, and they will be discussed in the next 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”.

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