North Korea’s Kim hails Russia ties as Putin reportedly plans a visit

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hailed the country’s expanding relationship with Russia on Wednesday, as reports suggest that Russian President Vladimir Putin will soon visit the country for his third meeting with Kim.

Military, economic and other cooperation between North Korea and Russia have sharply increased since Kim visited Russia last September for a meeting with Putin. The U.S., South Korea and their partners believe North Korea has supplied artillery, missiles and other conventional weapons to Russia to support its war in Ukraine in return for advanced military technologies and economic aid.

Kim has been pushing to boost partnerships with Russia and China in a bid to strength his regional footing and launch a united front against the United States.

During their September meeting at Russia’s main space launch site, Kim invited the Russian president to visit North Korea at “a convenient time,” and Putin accepted.

On Wednesday, Kim sent Putin a message congratulating Russia on its National Day, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

“Thanks to the significant meeting between us at the Vostochney Spaceport in September last year, (North Korea)-Russia friendly and cooperative relations developed into an unbreakable relationship of comrades-in-arms,” Kim said in the message.

Kim’s comments came as media reports said Putin is expected to visit North Korea as early as next week. If realized, it would their third summit meeting. Their first summit happened in Vladivostok in April 2019.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK, citing unidentified diplomatic sources including high-ranking Russian officials, reported Wednesday that Putin is preparing to visit North Korea and Vietnam next week.

NHK said Putin is expected to seek stronger military ties with North Korea as Russia faces a shortage of weapons in its war with Ukraine, while North Korea is believed to want help with space technology in the wake of its recent failure to put a second spy satellite in orbit in late May.

Russian business daily Vedomosti, citing an unidentified diplomatic source, said Monday that Putin will visit North Korea and Vietnam “in the coming weeks.” The report quoted Russia’s ambassador in North Korea, Alexander Matsegora, as saying that preparations for Putin’s visit to North Korea were underway.

Neither Russia nor North Korea have confirmed reports of a planned trip. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a briefing in late May that “the visit is in the pipeline, and we will make an announcement in due time,” according to Russian news agency Tass.

Russia and North Korea are locked in separate confrontations with the United States — Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and North Korea over its advancing nuclear program. Both North Korea and Russia have denied allegations of arms transfers, which would be a violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.

In March, South Korean Defense Minister Shin Wonsik said North Korea had already shipped about 7,000 containers filled with munitions and other military equipment to Russia. In return, Shin said that North Korea had received more than 9,000 Russian containers likely filled with aid.

Recently, tensions on the Korean Peninsula have risen again as North Korea launched trash-carrying balloons toward South Korea, prompting the South to resume propaganda broadcasts at border areas.

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Associated Press writers Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Dasha Litvinova in Tallinn, Estonia. contributed to this story.