North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un expected to discuss arms sales on Russia trip

Heavy fighting continues in eastern Ukraine as UN officials condemn Russia’s torture of Ukrainian captives

Russia prepared to welcome North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un for talks likely to focus on arms sales to the Kremlin, as heavy fighting continued in eastern Ukraine and United Nations officials condemned Russia’s torture of Ukrainian captives and its attacks on the country’s ports and grain silos.

The Kremlin announced on Monday that Kim would visit Russia “in the coming days”, as North Korean state media said he would soon meet Russian president Vladimir Putin and reports in South Korea said he appeared to have already set off from Pyongyang by train.

A possible location for the talks is Vladivostok, a port city on Russia’s Pacific coast about 150km from North Korea, where Mr Putin arrived on Monday for an economic forum.

The United States thinks the leaders will discuss possible North Korean ammunition sales to the Kremlin, in a deal that would boost Moscow’s depleted arsenal after 18 months of all-out war in Ukraine and bring much-needed cash to Pyongyang, while demonstrating that Russia and North Korea are ready to work together to offset their isolation from the West.


US vice-president Kamala Harris warned last week that such a deal would be a “huge mistake” and would “further isolate” both Russia and North Korea.

Ukrainian deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar said troops had retaken more territory near the occupied city of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region and in Zaporizhzhia region in the southeast, bringing the total land liberated since Kyiv launched its counteroffensive in June to more than 300sq km.

Ukrainian special forces also retook control of several offshore gas drilling rigs in the Black Sea close to occupied Crimea, according to Kyiv’s GUR military intelligence agency.

“Russia has been deprived of the ability to fully control the waters of the Black Sea, and this makes Ukraine many steps closer to regaining Crimea,” GUR said in a statement.

Moscow did not immediately comment on the claims, but bloggers close to the Russian military disputed Kyiv’s account. The Kremlin says the counteroffensive has failed and Ukraine has failed to retake any important areas while suffering major losses.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “is becoming synonymous with torture and other inhuman cruelty” according to Alice Jill Edwards, UN rapporteur on torture.

“The volume of credible allegations of torture and other inhumane acts that are being perpetrated against civilians and prisoners of war by Russian authorities appears to be unabating,” she said after a week-long visit to Ukraine. “These grievous acts appear neither random nor incidental, but rather orchestrated as part of a state policy to intimidate, instil fear, punish or extract information and confessions.

Meanwhile, UN human rights commissioner Volker Turk denounced Russia’s withdrawal in July from a deal to safeguard Ukrainian grain exports, and its simultaneous escalation of airstrikes on the country’s Black Sea ports and grain silos.

Moscow’s actions “have again forced prices sky-high in many developing countries – taking the right to food far out of reach for many people,” he said.

Mr Putin says he will return to the deal only if the West makes it easier for Russia to export food and fertiliser.

Russia said its ruling United Russia party dominated local and regional elections, including in occupied parts of Ukraine, in voting that Kyiv and the West called a rigged farce.

In Kyiv, visiting German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said Ukraine belonged in the European Union and that the bloc must grow “as a necessary geopolitical consequence of Russia’s war”.

Her Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, urged Berlin to send more air defence systems and repeated a plea for long-range Taurus cruise missiles: “I don’t understand why we are wasting time,” he said.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

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