Kim ends Russia trip with ‘heartfelt thanks’ to Putin
The Manila Times
Asia And Oceania
SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed his “heartfelt thanks” to President Vladimir Putin, state media said on Monday, as he headed home after nearly a week in Russia on a defense-focused trip. Kim’s tour of the Russian Far East, which began last Tuesday, has fanned Western fears that isolated, nuclear-armed Pyongyang could provide Moscow with weapons for its war on Ukraine. During the trip, the North Korean leader inspected everything from Russian space rockets to submarines. It also included a symbolic exchange of rifles with Putin. Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Monday that Kim “extended his heartfelt thanks to President Putin and the Russian leadership” for “their special care and cordial hospitality” as he wrapped up the visit. Kim is heading home “after successfully completing the schedule of his official goodwill visit to the Russian Federation,” it added. He also wished “Russia prosperity and its people well-being,” the news agency’s report said. North Korea and Russia are both under rafts of global sanctions: Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine, Pyongyang for its nuclear weapon tests. During his visit, Kim said his country would make bilateral ties with Russia its “No. 1 priority” as he held a rare summit with Putin. China is currently North Korea’s most crucial ally and benefactor. Russia is eager for North Korea’s stockpile of artillery shells to be used in Ukraine, while Pyongyang is looking for help with satellite technology and upgrading its Soviet-era military equipment, experts say. Last Wednesday, Putin and Kim held talks at Russia’s new Vostochny Cosmodrome, roughly 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) from Moscow. After the meeting, Putin talked up the prospect of greater cooperation with North Korea and the “possibilities” for military ties. But the Kremlin has said no agreement has or will be signed. Earlier on Sunday, Kim watched a performing walrus at the Primorsky Regional Aquarium, Russia’s largest, accompanied by his officials, many wearing military uniforms. State media images showed Kim smiling broadly as he applauded the walrus and its handler. Kim also “watched white dolphins and other sea animals performing acrobatic feats at the dolphinarium and looked round various places of the aquarium,” the KCNA said. The North Korean leader also praised the facility for “winning a reputation as a popular scientific research base” under Putin’s leadership, it added. Kim’s latest visit to Russia will “shine long in history,” the government news outlet said, and will further consolidate the two countries’ “militant unity” while “opening up a new chapter” of their relations. While meeting Kim, Putin accepted an invitation to visit the North and offered to send one of its citizens to space, which would be a first. Kim is heading back to North Korea by bulletproof train, with the KCNA saying the leader “starts his way home after bringing about a new radical turn in the history of the development of the DPRK-Russia relations.” DPRK is the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Before departing from Vladivostok, the Pacific port city just over the border, Kim was presented with five explosive drones, a reconnaissance drone and a bulletproof vest as gifts from Oleg Kozhemyako, governor of Russia’s Primorye region, which borders China and North Korea.