North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is reportedly set to travel to Russia this month to meet Vladimir Putin in talks aimed at bolstering the supply of weapons for the war in Ukraine.
North Korea has long been a pariah on the world stage outside of its alliance with China, but Mr Kim has sought to make the most of Russia’s political chaos by forging inroads with the Kremlin.
The New York Times reported on Monday that he is set to visit Russia to discuss military co-operation and the possibility of supplying the Putin regime with more arms for its war in Ukraine.
The report, which cites American and allied officials, suggested he plans to travel by armoured train from North Korea’s capital Pyongyang to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast, to meet Mr Putin.
The dictator, who rarely leaves North Korea, could also possibly visit Moscow.
With Russian military supplies for the war effort dwindling, it is thought North Korea could supply more artillery shells and anti-tank missiles, while Pyongyang is desperate for money, food aid, and access to advanced technology to develop satellites and nuclear-powered submarines.
Iranian-made drones are already in use in Ukraine, as Russia’s military draws on supply lines from its strategic allies. China has officially vowed not to provide lethal aid to either side in the conflict, but Ukraine has said its forces are finding a growing number of components from China in Russian equipment recovered from the battlefield.
Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu visited North Korea in July to try to convince Pyongyang to sell artillery ammunition to Russia.
On Monday, he signalled the two countries were discussing holding joint exercises – in a step likely to heighten Western concerns about the burgeoning alliance.
“Why not, these are our neighbours. There’s an old Russian saying: You don’t choose your neighbours and it’s better to live with your neighbours in peace and harmony,” Interfax news agency quoted Shoigu as saying.
When asked about the possibility of joint exercises between the two countries, he said they were “of course” being discussed.
Last week, the United States said it was concerned that arms talks between Russia and North Korea were progressing.
“Arms negotiations between Russia and the DPRK are actively advancing,” the White House national security spokesperson, John Kirby, said, adding that “President Putin and the leader of the DPRK, Kim Jong-un, have exchanged letters pledging to increase their bilateral cooperation”.
In a letter to Mr Putin last month, Mr Kim said the two countries’ friendship would “fully demonstrate their invincibility and might in the struggle to smash the imperialists’ arbitrary practices and hegemony”.