The government of strongman Vladimir Putin sent off North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un on Sunday with lavish military gifts including “five kamikaze drones and a ‘Geran-25’ reconnaissance drone,” the Russian news agency TASS reported.
Kim, who had not left his country since the onset of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, departed from far-east Russia on Sunday after spending the week touring military, space, and technology sites alongside Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, and other senior Russian officials. The six-day visit is the longest Kim Jong-un has ever engaged in abroad, lasting eight days including two days of travel on Kim’s slow, allegedly bulletproof personal train.
Kim began the visit a little less than a month after the White House announced that leftist President Joe Biden, who has struggled to develop a coherent North Korea policy, had offered Kim a one-on-one meeting “without preconditions,” but that Pyongyang had rejected it.
Prior to Kim’s journey to Russia this weekend, the dictator’s last in-person meeting with a foreign head of state had occurred in June 2019, when Kim welcomed former American President Donald Trump across the inter-Korean border into his country.
Kim met with Putin on September 13 at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, Russia’s most advanced space launch facility, and expressed interest in learning from Russia to improve its satellite technology.
“The leader of the DPRK [North Korea] shows great interest in rocket engineering. They are also trying to develop space,” Putin said at the time.
Kim used the opportunity to effusively praise Russia for “rising to the sacred struggle to defend its state sovereignty” by invading Ukraine and committing to supporting Putin in his “fight against imperialism.” Kim also invited Putin to visit North Korea at an undetermined time, an invite Putin reportedly accepted.
The communist Kim dynasty is one of Russia’s closest geopolitical allies and Kim spent much of his visit praising the Russian military, as well as explicitly lending support to Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Foreign observers, including American officials, have for months accused Russia of seeking to buy weapons from North Korea. A State Department spokesman mocked Putin last week for allegedly “scrounging around” impoverished North Korea to replenish his arsenal. Similarly, a spokesperson for the South Korean Defense Ministry said last week, as Pyongyang confirmed Kim’s visit to the north, that Seoul was “closely monitoring” the potential of “arms trade between North Korea and Russia.”
The Kremlin’s top spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, denied on Friday that Kim and Putin signed any deals to purchase weapons, or on any other matter.
“No agreements were signed on this issue or on other issues and there were no such plans,” Peskov, who attended some meetings with Kim, told reporters.
The lack of agreements apparently excluded the possibility of gifts. Kim “received five kamikaze drones and a ‘Geran-25’ reconnaissance drone with vertical takeoff,” TASS reported on Sunday, according to a translation by the Moscow Times. The drones were reportedly part of a larger gift package upon Kim’s departure that included a bulletproof vest, “special clothing not detectable by thermal cameras,” and a series of other gifts issued throughout his meetings in the past week. Reuters listed other gifts Kim is believed to be taking home as including “a cosmonaut’s glove” and a fine Russian rifle, which he traded with Putin for a North Korean model.
While Russian news outlets specified that Kim would take home several armed drones, Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) stated only that Moscow generously offered Kim “gifts,” without elaborating.
Multiple news reports noted that the drone gifts appear to be overt violations of United Nations Security Council sanctions on North Korea – in direct violation of Putin’s statements to the press last week that would abide by existing international law.
“There are certain restrictions, Russia is following all of them. There are things we can talk about, we’re discussing, thinking. Russia is a self-sufficient country, but there are things we can bring attention to, we’re discussing them,” Putin said on Russian state television last week.
Putin was not present for Kim’s subsequent meetings with Shoigu, Russian soldiers, and other senior officials. Following the tour of the Cosmodrome last week, Kim moved on to visit several Russian technological facilities. His last stop was the city of Vladivostok, one of the largest in the Far East, where KCNA claimed Kim visited “several objects in the fields of military, economy, science, education and culture.” Among Kim’s stops, in Vladivostok and elsewhere, following his summit with Putin were the Knevichi Airbase, this weekend were the Yuri Gagarin Aviation Plant, a marine wildlife show, a Pacific Sea Fleet naval facility, and a ballet performance.
Kim reportedly toured the airbase with Shoigu, whom he had met in Pyongyang for a celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice agreement in July. Shoigu was the first high-level foreign official to visit Pyongyang since the beginning of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic in China.
According to KCNA, Kim and Shoigu “observed different types of strategic bombers, multi-role fighter jets, pursuit fighter jets, attack fighter jets and other modern warplanes of the Russian air force” while at the airbase, mirroring their tour of a North Korean weapons exhibition in Pyongyang two months prior.
Talks between Kim and Shoigu reportedly included discussions of Russian-North Korean military collaboration. KCNA described the issues raised as including “strengthening the strategic and tactical coordination, cooperation and mutual exchange between the armed forces of the two countries.” It described Kim as being “deeply impressed” by the Russian military but excluded any specific commitments or discussions of trade, in concert with spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s insistence that the two countries signed no official agreements during the visit.