Kim Jong Un Thought To Be On Russia-Bound Train For Meeting With Vladimir Putin


A train has left North Korea for Russia and is presumably carrying leader Kim Jong Un for a possible meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to South Korean media reports on Monday, adding to growing international concern over Moscow’s deepening ties with Pyongyang amid reports the reclusive state is preparing to arm the Kremlin in its war in Ukraine.

Key Facts

South Korean media reports, which cite unnamed South Korean government sources, suggest the train probably departed the North Korean capital of Pyongyang Sunday evening.

The reports suggest the train could be carrying Kim to Russia for a potential meeting with Putin, a summit U.S. officials last week said was in the works and likely to happen in the near future.

The meeting could happen as early as Tuesday, reports say.

If the train is indeed carrying Kim, it is likely to be his personal armored train, a slow and reportedly luxurious vehicle that stands in stark contrast to the poverty that prevails through much of North Korea.

Kim rarely leaves North Korea and the trip marks his first foreign visit since the country closed its borders in 2020 during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.

What We Don’t Know

The train’s destination, or occupants, is not known and officials haven’t made any public statements yet. If it is carrying Kim to Russia, the eastern port city of Vladivostok is a likely destination. Kim traveled to Vladivostok in 2019 for his first and only meeting with Putin.

News Peg

News of Kim’s trip was first reported by news outlets in early September, citing U.S. and allied officials. Details of the trip were scarce and neither Pyongyang or Moscow publicly confirmed the visit was happening. While Washington would not confirm whether intelligence suggested a meeting was imminent, National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said the U.S. expected “leader-level diplomatic engagement” on arms between the two nations, the New York Times reported. Watson also told ABC news that arms talks between Russia and North Korea are “actively advancing.” The meeting follows a trip from Russia’s defense minister Sergei Shoigu to Pyongyang in late July, where he vowed to cultivate closer economic and political ties with the reclusive state and said they were aligned with Moscow on several key international issues. Moscow’s increasing isolation on the global stage and decision to reinvigorate ties with pariah states like North Korea has alarmed analysts as a potential sign Russia may be returning to Cold War-style politics and is supporting Pyongyang’s ambitions to develop its ability to wage war and violate international sanctions.

What To Watch For

The Kremlin’s support of Pyongyang could invite harsh repercussions for both sides, with any deal potentially violating international sanctions and destabilizing the region and global geopolitics further. U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has warned that any arms deal is “not going to reflect well on North Korea and they will pay a price for this” in the global community. “It says a lot that Russia is having to turn to a country like North Korea to seek to bolster its defense capacity,” Sullivan added.

Big Number

10. That’s how many international trips Kim Jong Un has made since taking power after his father’s death in 2011, including his most recent visit to Russia. He primarily, though not exclusively, travels by a special armored train and is reportedly incredibly wary of security threats when traveling abroad. He has made four trips to China and one visit each to Vietnam and Singapore. Kim has also crossed the inter-Korean border twice—he is the only North Korean leader to cross into the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone—once to meet with the then South Korean President Moon Jae-in and again in 2019 for talks with then-president Donald Trump.

Further Reading

Putin Celebrates ‘Friendship’ With Pyongyang As North Korea Deepens Ties With Russia And China (Forbes)

Kim Jong Un Has Many Reasons to Meet With Vladimir Putin (WSJ)

Does North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un always travel by train? (Reuters)

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