SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un headed home from Russia on Sunday, ending a six-day trip that has sparked global concern over arms transfer deals between the two countries, which are in separate conflicts with the West.
After a farewell ceremony at a train station, Kim began his journey back to North Korea aboard his armored train from the Primorye region in Russia’s Far East, Russia’s state news agency RIA said.
Since entering Russia last Tuesday on his first foreign trip in more than four years, Kim had met President Vladimir Putin and visited key military and technology sites. The Sunday before, he was more relaxed, visiting a university and watching a walrus show at a Russian aquarium.
Russia’s state media released videos showing Kim – dressed in a black suit and accompanied by his top officials – speaking to Russian officials through translators as he walked through the campus of the Far Eastern Federal University on Russky Island.
Kim was later seen at the island’s Primorsky Aquarium, Russia’s largest, where he watched performances with beluga whales, bottlenose dolphins, fur seals and the walrus “Misha,” which he seemed to particularly enjoy, according to Russian media.
Kim’s trip, culminating in a summit with Putin on Wednesday, showed how their interests align amid separate, intensifying confrontations with the West. U.S. and South Korean officials said North Korea could provide much-needed ammunition for Moscow’s war against Ukraine in return for sophisticated Russian weapons technology that would advance Kim’s nuclear ambitions.
A day after visiting an aircraft factory in Komsomolsk-on-Amur that produces Russia’s most powerful fighter jets, Kim traveled on Saturday to an airport near Vladivostok, where Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and other senior military officials gave him a close look at Russia’s strategic bombers and aircraft other fighter aircraft.
All of the Russian fighter jets shown to Kim were of the types actively used in the war in Ukraine, including the Tu-160, Tu-95 and Tu-22 bombers, which regularly fired cruise missiles.
During Kim’s visit, Shoigu and Lt. Gen. Sergei Kobylash, the commander of Russia’s long-range bomber force, confirmed for the first time that the Tu-160 had recently received new cruise missiles with a range of more than 4,040 miles.
Shoigu, who met Kim on a rare visit to North Korea in July, also showed Kim another of Russia’s newest missiles, the Kinzhal hypersonic missile, carried by the MiG-31 fighter jet and which saw its first use during the war in Ukraine.
Kim and Shoigu traveled to Vladivostok later Saturday, where they inspected the frigate Admiral Shaposhnikov. Russian Navy commander Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov briefed Kim on the ship’s capabilities and weapons, which include long-range Kalibr cruise missiles that Russian warships have regularly fired at targets in Ukraine.
North Korean state media reported that Kim was accompanied on his visits Saturday by his senior military officials, including his defense minister and the top commanders of his air force and navy.
After lunch, Kim and Shoigu discussed the regional security environment and exchanged views on “practical issues arising in further strengthening strategic and tactical coordination, cooperation and mutual exchanges between the militaries of the two countries,” according to the Korean official of the North Central News Agency.
At their meeting in July, Kim subjected Shoigu to a similar inspection of North Korea’s weapons systems before inviting him to a large parade in the capital Pyongyang, where he deployed his most powerful intercontinental ballistic missiles to target the United States.
Kim’s visits to military and technology sites this week may hint at what he wants from Russia, perhaps in return for supplying munitions to replenish Putin’s dwindling reserves as his invasion of Ukraine turns into a protracted war of attrition.
Kim’s meeting with Putin took place at Russia’s main spaceport, a site that expressed his desire for Russian support in his efforts to acquire space-based reconnaissance equipment and missile technologies.
Experts said possible military cooperation between the countries could include efforts to modernize North Korea’s aging air force, which relies on fighter jets sent from the Soviet Union in the 1980s.