Putin visits North Korea amid growing concern over alleged arms trade

Ukraine urges West to send weapons to counter ‘lonely bromance’ of Russian and North Korean leaders

North Korea's Kim Jong-un (left) walks with Vladimir Putin shortly after the Russian president's arrival in Pyongyang on June 19th. Photograph: Gavriil Grigorov/Pool/AFP via Getty

Russian president Vladimir Putin has arrived in North Korea for talks with its leader Kim Jong-un that will focus on military and economic co-operation, prompting Ukraine to call for a strong western response to the “lonely bromance” between the autocrats.

North Korean state media said as Mr Putin arrived in Pyongyang for his first visit since 2000, he was greeted by Mr Kim early on Wednesday morning “in an exciting atmosphere”. Mr Kim then escorted the Russian leader to his accommodation.

Ties between the two countries have strengthened significantly since Mr Putin’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

The US, South Korea and Kyiv say North Korea is supplying Russia with missiles and artillery shells for use in Ukraine, and ask what it is receiving in return; Moscow and Pyongyang deny doing weapons deals and insist that none of their trade breaches United Nations sanctions on North Korea over its missile and nuclear programmes.


Mr Putin’s delegation is thought to include Russia’s ministers for defence, foreign affairs, and natural resources, as well as senior energy and space programme officials, underlining the value of the relationship to two countries that have been ostracised by the West and its allies in Asia.

Senior Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said “several documents will be signed” on Wednesday, possibly including a new strategic partnership deal that would cover co-operation in “international politics, the economy and in the sphere of all types of communication, including issues of security”.

Writing in North Korean state media before his first visit to the country since 2000, Mr Putin portrayed both it and Russia as peace-loving states that have had to join forces to defend themselves from a domineering West that uses military expansion and sanctions regimes to bully countries that do not bend to its will.

“We highly appreciate [North Korea’s] unwavering support for Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine, their solidarity with us on key international matters and willingness to defend our common priorities and views within the United Nations,” Mr Putin said, referring to the all-out invasion of Ukraine that he launched in February 2022.

“Russia has incessantly supported and will support [Pyongyang] and the heroic Korean people in their struggle against the treacherous, dangerous and aggressive enemy, in their fight for independence, identity and the right to freely choose their development path,” he added.

“We are ready to closely work together to bring more democracy and stability to international relations. To do this, we will develop alternative trade and mutual settlement mechanisms not controlled by the West, jointly oppose illegitimate unilateral restrictions, and shape the architecture of … security in Eurasia.”

Mr Putin’s visit comes days after more than 90 states attended a so-called global peace summit in Switzerland at Ukraine’s invitation. Kyiv says it could be a first step towards a just peace, but Russia was not invited and called the event a failure; China refused to attend and several influential countries that were represented, including India, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and South Africa, did not sign the closing statement.

Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said Mr Putin and Mr Kim were engaged in a “lonely bromance” that should draw a robust reaction from world democracies.

“The best way to respond to it is to continue strengthening the diplomatic coalition for just and lasting peace in Ukraine and delivering more Patriots and ammunition to Ukraine,” he added, referring to US-made air defence systems that Kyiv says are the only weapon that can thwart all Russian missile attacks.

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Washington would be monitoring Mr Putin’s visit closely “because we know North Korean ballistic missiles are still being used to hit Ukrainian targets [and] because there could be some reciprocity here that could affect security on the Korean peninsula.”

Russian officials reported fires on Tuesday at oil depots in the southern Rostov region after suspected Ukrainian drone strikes, while Kyiv’s forces said Russian troops were intensifying attacks in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe