North Korea and Russia: Kim Jong Un tells Vladimir Putin he supports his ‘sacred fight’ against the West

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Kim Jong Un said North Korea will always stand with Russia on the “anti-imperialist front”, in an apparent show of support for Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has offered President Vladimir Putin his “full and unconditional support” for what he described as Russia’s “sacred fight” against the West.

Kim also said that Pyongyang will always stand with Moscow on the “anti-imperialist” front - in apparent backing for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine - and praised him for fighting against “hegemonic forces”, understood to be a reference to Western countries that have voiced their support for Kyiv.

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The two leaders finally met and shook hands at Russia’s biggest domestic space launch centre, the Vostochny Cosmodrome, on Wednesday (13 September) - the morning after Kim’s armoured luxury train crossed into Khasan Station. It is the North Korean leader’s first trip abroad since before the coronavirus pandemic.

Putin is believed to be seeking artillery shells and missiles from heavily militarised North Korea for his ongoing invasion of Ukraine. In return, Kim is said to be hoping for food and energy aid, but also advanced weapons technologies - including those related to intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarines, and military reconnaissance satellites.

The decision to meet at the Vostochny Cosmodrome appeared to underscore the latter of these, as the North Korean leader took the opportunity to pepper a Russian space official with questions about the rockets.

Kim and Putin’s meeting also came just hours after North Korea fired two ballistic missiles towards the sea, extending a highly provocative run in weapons testing that started at the beginning of 2022 - with Kim using the distraction caused by Putin’s war in Ukraine to accelerate his development of weapons.

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This pool image distributed by Sputnik agency shows Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un shaking hands during their meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome on 13 September, 2023, ahead of planned talks that could lead to a weapons deal with Russian President. Credit: Photo by VLADIMIR SMIRNOV/POOL/AFP via Getty ImagesThis pool image distributed by Sputnik agency shows Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un shaking hands during their meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome on 13 September, 2023, ahead of planned talks that could lead to a weapons deal with Russian President. Credit: Photo by VLADIMIR SMIRNOV/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
This pool image distributed by Sputnik agency shows Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un shaking hands during their meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome on 13 September, 2023, ahead of planned talks that could lead to a weapons deal with Russian President. Credit: Photo by VLADIMIR SMIRNOV/POOL/AFP via Getty Images | POOL/AFP via Getty Images

In a translation released by Reuters, Putin opened the talks on Wednesday (13 September) by saying he was “very glad” to see Kim in Russia. He listed “economic co-operation”, “humanitarian issues” and the “situation in the region” as some of the items on their agenda, before thanking Kim for accepting the invitation to come to Russia.

Kim in response expressed his gratitud for Putin paying “such attention to our visit to Russia”. He continued: “The Soviet Union played a very big role in the liberation of our country. Our friendship has deep roots, and now relations with the Russian Federation are the first priority for our country. I am sure that our meeting will be the next step to take relations to a new level.”

He then went on to offer Russia his country’s support in the “sacred fight” against the West. “We will be together in the fight against imperialism,” Kim told Putin.

Before the talks started, Kim told reporters that North Korean relations with Russia were now his country’s biggest foreign policy imperative. “We will prioritise the North Korea-Russia relationship and put it as the number one priority of our foreign policy from now on,” he said.

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Asked if Russia would help North Korea build satellites, Putin confirmed: “That’s why we came here. The leader of North Korea shows great interest in rocket engineering. They are also trying to develop space.”

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, has also been fielding questions about the pair’s meeting. Reporters asked him about the implications of the visit - pointing out that North Korea is under longstanding United Nations (UN) sanctions relating to human rights issues and its development of nuclear weapons.

Peskov replied: “Russia maintains its position at the United Nations, in the Security Council, but this cannot and will not hinder the further development of Russian-North Korean relations.”

Any arms deal would violate international sanctions that Russia has supported in the past, something Lim Soo-suk, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, drew attention to in a statement on Wednesday (13 September).

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Mr Lim said: “No UN member state should violate Security Council sanctions against North Korea by engaging in an illegal trade of arms, and must certainly not engage in military co-operation with North Korea that undermines the peace and stability of the international community.”

In this pool photo distributed by Sputnik agency, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (centre L) and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un (centre R) visit the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Amur region on September 13, 2023. Credit: Photo by MIKHAIL METZEL/POOL/AFP via Getty ImagesIn this pool photo distributed by Sputnik agency, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (centre L) and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un (centre R) visit the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Amur region on September 13, 2023. Credit: Photo by MIKHAIL METZEL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
In this pool photo distributed by Sputnik agency, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (centre L) and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un (centre R) visit the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Amur region on September 13, 2023. Credit: Photo by MIKHAIL METZEL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images | POOL/AFP via Getty Images

South Korea is not the only country the visit has sparked tension with. Kremlin spokesperson previously dismissed warnings from the United States about the meeting, remarking: “While implementing our relations with our neighbours, including North Korea, the interests of our two countries are important to us, not warnings from Washington. It is the interests of our two countries that we will focus on.”

And the two countries’ interests appear to be aligning at the moment, particularly amid their separate but intensifying confrontations with the US. Relations between North Korea and the US have historically been tense and hostile, with contention dating back to the Korean War, in which Pyongyang and Washington fought on opposing sides.

Since the armistice, disputes have revolved around North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, its human rights record, the US’s sanctions against North Korea, and military exercises held by the US and South Korea.

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Meanwhile, Russia and the US have long had a complicated relationship - at times cooperating on issues and at other times there being significant tension.

However, following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, relations reached the lowest point in decades - with sanctions imposed on Russia by the West significantly expanded by the US and its allies, including the UK, such as those on state-owned banks and oligarchs.

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