North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently embarked on a visit to a Russian fighter jet factory, sparking concerns from the United States regarding potential support for Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Kim’s trip took him to Komsomolsk-on-Amur, where he toured a facility specializing in advanced fighter jets and aircraft production. Among the aircraft showcased were the Su-35 and the Su-57 stealth combat fighter, as reported by a Russian government Telegram channel.
North Korea‘s air force currently relies predominantly on outdated aircraft, posing minimal threats compared to the advanced military equipment operated by the United States, Japan, and South Korea in the region. According to a report by the US Defense Intelligence Agency, the most capable combat aircraft in North Korea’s inventory are a handful of MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters procured from the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. The report also highlighted North Korea‘s maintenance of a substantial fleet of An-2 Colt aircraft, dating back to the 1940s and characterized as single-engine 10-passenger biplanes.
Kim’s visit to Russia came on the heels of his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Vostochny Cosmodrome space center in the Amur region, marking their first summit in four years. While no official date has been set for Putin’s visit to North Korea, it would be his first since 2000 when he met with Kim Jong Il, the father of the current North Korean leader.
The visit to the space center hinted at potential items on Kim Jong Un’s agenda in exchange for supplying munitions to Russia. North Korea has faced setbacks in deploying a spy satellite this year and may seek Moscow’s assistance in launching one into orbit. Additionally, Kim might be interested in technology that would enhance his regime’s nuclear warheads’ ability to withstand the heat during reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere.
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President Putin indicated that North Korea had expressed interest in Russian space rockets and that Russia might consider helping them develop satellites, according to RIA Novosti, a Russian state-owned news agency.
The United States expressed concerns over this growing relationship between Russia and North Korea, with Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh highlighting Russia’s desperation for support and potential arms agreements. Singh emphasized that providing arms to Russia would violate UN Security Council Resolutions, which Russia itself had supported.
For several months, the US has accused Kim of supplying arms and ammunition to assist Russia’s military operations, including sending shells and rockets. While these weapons may not significantly alter the battlefield, they could aid Russia in its activities in Ukraine and provide North Korea with a new source of revenue for its largely isolated economy.
Kim’s itinerary includes a visit to Vladivostok, where he will inspect Russia’s Pacific fleet and meet with military officials. Afterward, he is expected to return home. Before his trip, there were reports suggesting that Kim might be seeking assistance in building a nuclear-powered submarine. He recently attended the launch ceremony for what North Korea claimed to be its first “tactical nuclear attack” submarine, believed by experts to be powered by a diesel-electric system.
South Korea’s military expressed skepticism about the capabilities of this new submarine, despite North Korea’s boasting. Although North Korea has one of the world’s largest submarine fleets, most of its vessels are small, old, and relatively noisy.
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While both North Korea and Russia have denied US allegations of arms transfers, it is important to note that North Korea possesses significant stockpiles of artillery and unguided rockets that could be used in the Soviet-era weaponry Russia employs in its actions in Ukraine. Seeking military assistance from North Korea marks a historical reversal for the two states, given that the Soviet Union had been North Korea’s primary supporter since its inception 75 years ago, supplying crucial weapons during the Korean War’s early stages in the 1950s.