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Why Kim and Putin’s friendship has the West worried 

Welcome to Wednesday’s Early Edition from i.

“Passing through charmingly lit streets of Pyongyang at night, the top leaders exchanged their pent-up inmost thoughts and opened their minds to more surely develop the DPRK-Russia relations,” North Korea’s state media faithfully reported as Vladimir Putin set foot in the country for the first time in 24 years. The streets of Pyongyang were pictured lined with portraits of the Russian leader with a ‘Welcome Putin’ message emblazoned on a the capital’s notorious unfinished pyramid-shaped hotel. The visit comes some eight months after Kim Jong-un took a slow but luxurious dark green armoured train up to the far reaches of eastern Russia. Earlier this year it was reported the hermit state had sent Moscow about 6,700 containers carrying millions of munitions, in exchange for food and weapon-making materials. Putin has said the two countries will “shape the architecture of equal and indivisible security in Eurasia,” while N Korean media added it would be an “engine for accelerating the building of a new multi-polar world”. World leaders will be watching closely. What can we expect, and how significant could their deepening friendship be? We’ll take a look, after the headlines.

 Today’s news, and why it matters

The Government has held secret talks over the financial turmoil facing a major contractor that could spark severe disruption to public services, i can reveal. Concerns are growing about cashflow issues affecting French IT giant Atos, which has almost a billion pounds’ worth of UK government contracts.

Kitchen countertop workers at risk of a deadly lung disease have been issued with urgent safety guidance to stem a rise in cases. The British Occupational Hygiene Society, a leading scientific body has published new advice for tradespeople working with engineered stone amid outbreaks of silicosis in the UK and globally.

Giving greater fishing access to European vessels in British waters would “cut the throat” of the UK’s fish industry, fishermen have warned Keir Starmer. Labour has said it will seek to renegotiate elements of the Brexit trade deal to reduce red tape on food exports and imports to and from the EU, by aligning with Brussels rules in this area.

Three children missing after visiting Thorpe Park have been found safe in London. A 14-year-old girl named only as Khandi was with two siblings, Amelia, nine, and Malik, seven, at the theme park in Surrey on Monday.

The UK could see an unprecedented exodus of millionaires spurred on by economic and political turmoil, according to a new report. As many as 9,500 so-called high-net-worth individuals will depart Britain, more than double the record-breaking number who left in 2023, according to a forecast by migration advisers Henley & Partners.


Three questions about Putin’s North Korea visit:

What is the trip supposed to be about? The has Kremlin described the trip as a “friendly state visit”, and Putin’s aide, Yuri Ushakov, said the Russian it will have a “very eventful” agenda. The Kremlin said both leaders plan to sign a new strategic partnership, which would include security issues. Ushakov said the deal would not be directed against any other country, but would “outline prospects for further cooperation”. Ahead of his arrival Putin praised Kim Jong-un for resisting what he said was US economic pressure, blackmail and threats. In an article on the front page of North Korea’s main ruling party newspaper, he promised to “develop alternative trade and mutual settlement mechanisms not controlled by the West” and “build an equal and indivisible security architecture in Eurasia.” Putin is scheduled to go on to Hanoi after his meetings in Pyongyang to strengthen ties to Communist-governed Vietnam. Rachel Minyoung Lee, an analyst with the 38 North programme in Washington, wrote that Putin could be providing strong economic appeal to North Korea. “If Pyongyang views Russia as a viable longer-term partner for improving its economy – as irrational as this may seem to some – there is even less of an incentive for it to try to improve relations with the United States,” she said in a report. Callum Fraser Eurasian Security at the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi), told i Putin’s visit was “a show of solidarity and strength against the unilateral sanctions imposed by the West.” 

What are Western leaders and experts concerns? US national security spokesman John Kirby said on Monday that the Biden administration wasn’t “concerned about the trip” itself, but was “concerned about the deepening relationship between these two countries.” The US is worried Russia could provide aid for N Korea’s missile and nuclear programmes, and also that Kim Jong-un could supply Russia with missiles and artillery shells for use against Ukraine. Edward Howell, a North Korea expert at Oxford University, said the strengthening ties between Moscow and Pyongyang were a matter of real concern. “We’re not just seeing the money or the food assistance, but crucially, the technological assistance, particularly in terms of satellite technology, but also beyond that in terms of the new technologies. North Korea wants [Russia’s] expertise in order to develop its own indigenous nuclear missile capabilities,” he said. Faten Ghosn, professor and head of the University of Essex’s department of government, said the visit was an “elaborate and strategic move” to challenge Nato’s position across the world, and expand Russia’s influence in the “global south” in particular. She pointed out that after visiting North Korea, Mr Putin would go on to visit Vietnam, a US ally, in a bid to build further support. “We should not see these things in isolation,” she said. “They are trying to present an alternative vision which they say is going to provide respect for national sovereignty.” Read more here. 

Can Western pressure dampen their plans? Edward Howell told i the international community could do “very little” to contain a nuclear North Korea. “There are two consequences of this [Russia-North Korea alliance],” he said. “The first is, the UN Security Council has become basically useless. Russia and North Korea are actively working with each other to undermine the Council. So it is unable to constrain North Korea’s rogue behaviour – and Russia’s rogue behaviour. The second thing that’s concerning is that we’ve got Russia and North Korea engaging in a sort of military exchange. We know that North Korean ballistic missiles have been used by Russia against Ukraine. We know that North Korean ballistic missiles have been supplied to Hamas. What’s concerning here is that if this anti-Western alliance solidifies, who are North Korea’s next customers going to be?” Rex Li, a professor of international relations at King’s College London, says the West should not count on China to rein in North Korea’s aggression. “I think the United States and other countries overestimate China’s influence over North Korea. The Americans always encourage China to change North Korea’s behaviour, but it doesn’t work like that, you know, I think their relationship is complex.” Read the full piece here.  

Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un meet at Pyongyang’s airport (Photo by Kremlin Press Office/Anadolu via Getty Images)

 Around the world

Nvidia has become the world’s most valuable company after its share price climbed to an all-time high. It makes computer chips needed for artificial intelligence software, and demand for its products has boosted its sales and profits over the last few years.

Europe could be in for a summer of extreme heat and flash floods, climate scientists have warned, after parts of the Continent were hit by soaring temperatures and severe storms. While the UK experienced a wet and mild June, much of the rest of Europe has been hit by extreme weather, including heatwaves and flooding.

At least 550 pilgrims have died during the hajj, according to reports. At least 323 of those who died were Egyptians, most of them succumbing to heat-related illnesses, two Arab diplomats coordinating their countries’ responses told AFP.

Justin Timberlake has been arrested for driving while intoxicated in New York’s Long Island, according to reports. One law enforcement official said they expected Mr Timberlake to be arraigned later on Tuesday in the incorporated village of Sag Harbor.

The European drugs regulator has launched an investigation into a common painkiller linked to a series of illnesses and deaths of Britons in Spain. The European Medicines Agency said it was reviewing the painkiller metamizole, which has been linked to a potentially fatal condition in which a patient’s white blood cells are severely depleted.

Protesters who occupied a famous Mallorcan beach known as an “Instagrammers’ paradise” and shouted at tourists to leave have condemned the actions of the police who appeared at the demonstration.

A mysterious monolith has baffled police officers in Las Vegas after it was spotted in a mountain range near the city. Officers have no idea where the monolith came from and have said they expect social media users will try to solve the mystery.

 Watch out for…

 some rare good news for Rishi Sunak, as inflation is expected to fall back to the 2% target for the first time in nearly three years today. 

 Thoughts for the day

Tony Blair’s gender comments are a political lesson for Keir Starmer. The former PM can capture the public mood without threatening Starmer’s position, writes Katy Balls.

Tolerating your partner’s infidelity? Your marriage is over. ‘Tolyamory’ isn’t an alternative lifestyle, it’s a toxic dumpster fire of a relationship, argues Kate Lister.

Arundhati Roy’s fight for freedom is one we cannot allow her to lose. There is a community of English language authors who can and should stand with their comrade in India, says Kate Maltby.

Arundhati Roy in New Delhi in 2021; the author is now being tried for speech crimes under India’s Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (Photo: Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times)

 Culture Break

RIP to the music channel – it defined my misspent youth. Channel 4 axing The Box rings the death knell for an artform that changed the world, writes Matt Charlton.

The beauty of music channels was that you didn’t even have to actively watch them – this was a shared culture that bled into our impressionable brains in the background when we had friends over

 The Big Read

The Tory health and education record: long waits, better schools, poorer pupils. Higher school standards have been offset by a rise in child poverty, while extra NHS funding was been spent in the wrong places, reports Richard Vaughan.

How the Conservatives have performed on education and health since 2010


The anti-Southgate who can lead Germany to Euro 2024 glory. Julian Nagelsmann is enjoying a kind of rehabilitation with Germany with the host nation riding a wave of excitement and euphoria.

Julian Nagelsmann previously managed Bundesliga sides RB Leipzig and Bayern Munich (Photo: Getty)

 Something to brighten your day

The crisps that experts eat – and the ones they never buy. Not even doctors and dietitians can resist the odd bag of crisps – and they say Kettle Chips, Tyrells and Popchips are the least bad choice.

Dr Claire Merrifield, Marilia Chamon and Nichola Ludlam-Raine weigh in on their crisp picks (left to right) (Photo: Supplied)

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