Pyongyang welcomes Putin with fanfare as Russian leader makes first visit in 24 years

By Simone McCarthy, Manveena Suri and Lucas Lilieholm, CNN

CNN  —  Thousands of North Koreans chanting “welcome Putin” lined Pyongyang’s wide boulevards waving Russian and North Korean flags and bouquets of flowers Wednesday as Russian President Vladimir Putin kicked off his first visit to North Korea in 24 years.

Putin was met with exuberant fanfare for a welcome ceremony with his counterpart Kim Jong Un at Kim Il Sung Square in the heart of the North Korean capital, where mounted soldiers, military personnel and children holding balloons cheered against the backdrop of large portraits of the two leaders.

Putin and Kim presented their delegations and stood together as the Russian national anthem played before the two autocrats rode standing shoulder to shoulder in an open-top limousine as they smiled and waved to the crowds.

Putin landed in North Korea in the early hours of Wednesday local time for a rare visit, heralding Moscow’s deepening alignment with Pyongyang in the face of shared animosity toward the West and international concerns over their growing military cooperation.

Multiple governments have accused Pyongyang of supplying arms to Moscow for its grinding war in Ukraine, a charge both countries have denied, despite significant evidence of such transfers.

In remarks ahead of talks between the two, Kim voiced his “full support and solidarity with the struggles of the Russian government, military and the people,” pointing specifically to Moscow’s war in Ukraine “to protect its own sovereignty, safety and territorial stability.”

“Situations continue to be complicated and ever-changing, but I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate that we will continue to strengthen and closely engage in strategic communication with the (Russian) leadership,” Kim added.

Putin hailed the countries’ ties as based on “equality and mutual respect,” and said an expected new bilateral agreement would “form the basis of relations between the two states for many years to come,” according to Russian state agency Tass. He also added that he hoped Kim would visit Moscow for their next meeting.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin exit a welcome ceremony at Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang on June 19.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un attend a welcoming ceremony on June 19, 2024 in Pyongyang, North Korea.

The diplomacy stands as a stark signal of their expanding relations, and also marks a significant boost for Kim, who remains isolated on the world stage due to his illegal weapons program and has not hosted another world leader in his capital since the pandemic.

Kim, the third generation leader of a dynasty that has ruled North Korea with an iron fist, beamed visibly as he greeted Putin at the airport in the early hours of Wednesday morning, video footage of the Russian leader’s arrival showed.

The pair then rode together to the Kumsusan State Guest House where Putin is staying, according to North Korean state-run news agency KCNA.

Then, the two leaders “exchanged their pent-up innermost thoughts and opened their minds to more surely develop (North Korea-Russia) relations in conformity with the common desire and will of the peoples of the two countries,” KCNA said.

The burgeoning relationship has sparked concern in both Seoul and Washington, not only over North Korea’s arms transfers to Russia, but also the prospect of Moscow transferring its superior military technology to aid Pyongyang’s’s heavily sanctioned weapons program.

Tensions remain elevated on the Korean Peninsula, as Kim in recent months has ramped up bellicose language and scrapped a longstanding policy of seeking peaceful reunification with South Korea.

Putin’s trip follows a Kim’s landmark visit to Russia last year, where the two leaders were widely seen as opening this new chapter in their relations predicated on Putin’s need for North Korean arms for its on-going offensive.

Russia has received more than 10,000 shipping containers – the equivalent of 260,000 metric tons of munitions or munitions-related material – from North Korea since September, according to a US statement in February. Russian forces have also launched at least 10 North Korea-made missiles on Ukraine since September, a US official also said in March.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

CNN’s Isaac Yee and Jadyn Sham contributed to this report.

Related Articles

Back to top button