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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has offered his country’s “full and unconditional support” for Russia’s war in Ukraine, which he called a “sacred fight” against imperialism and the west, in a meeting with President Vladimir Putin.

The leaders met at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, Russia’s most advanced space rocket launch site located in the country’s far east, with their countries facing international isolation and sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic weapons programmes.

“Russia has risen to a sacred fight to protect its sovereignty and security . . . against the hegemonic forces,” Kim told Putin via a translator. “We will always support the decisions of President Putin and the Russian leadership . . . and we will be together in the fight against imperialism.”

The meeting was the second summit between Putin and Kim in four years, and the North Korean leader’s first international trip since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

They are expected to discuss a possible arms deal, with Putin seeking to replenish Russia’s supplies of conventional munitions, which its forces are rapidly depleting through heavy artillery use in Ukraine. Kim is likely to request access to advanced technology for spy satellites and nuclear-powered submarines as well as food aid.

Putin said Moscow would help Pyongyang build satellites, telling reporters that the two would discuss all issues including weapons supplies, according to Russian state media. North Korea has made two failed attempts this year to launch a spy satellite into space.

“That’s why we came here,” Putin said. “The leader of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] shows great interest in rocket engineering, they are also trying to develop space [capabilities].”

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, right, and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, centre, met at the Vostochny Cosmodrome on Wednesday
Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, right, said he would discuss issues including satellites with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, second right © Mikhail Metzel/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Kim, who arrived at the cosmodrome 60km north of Vladivostok in a limousine brought from Pyongyang on his luxury armoured train, said on Wednesday that relations with Moscow were a “top priority”.

His trip, which followed a visit to Pyongyang by Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu in July, demonstrated the “strategic importance” of the relationship, which Kim said he hoped to raise to “a fresh higher level”.

North Korea has opposed a UN general assembly resolution condemning the military action.

The meeting at the remote Siberian facility from which Russia’s Soyuz-2 rockets are launched reflects Kim’s interest in seeking Moscow’s technological assistance to build military reconnaissance satellites, which Pyongyang sees as critical to its ambitions of developing a nuclear-tipped missile. Kim is also scheduled to visit a factory that makes Sukhoi fighters and other aircraft, according to Russian media. 

Earlier on Wednesday, North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles towards the Sea of Japan, according to Japan’s defence ministry.

Washington has previously accused Pyongyang of supplying arms including infantry rockets and missiles to the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-aligned private army, for use in Ukraine, an allegation both Russia and North Korea have denied.

Analysts estimate that North Korea has a large stockpile of ageing artillery equipment and rockets based on or duplicating designs from the Soviet Union, its former patron.

The meeting will also offer Kim a chance to replenish state coffers as North Korea embarks on a belated reopening from stringent Covid restrictions, which cut off foreign trade and strangled its economy.

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