The Kremlin and Pyongyang said Monday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will visit Russia in the coming days at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin.
North Korea's state-run KCNA news agency said on Monday that its leader will “meet and have a talk” with Putin during a visit to Russia.
South Korean media reported Monday that a special train presumed to be carrying Kim had departed Pyongyang and that a meeting with Putin could take place as early as Tuesday.
South Korean officials said they are monitoring closely but did not confirm specific details.
“The government is concerned about the possibility of military cooperation between North Korea and Russia, which has been raised recently. Once again, we make it clear that bilateral cooperation should not undermine the international order and peace in the Korean Peninsula,” said a spokesperson from the South Korean Ministry of Unification on Monday.
The U.S. State Department has not immediately commented on reports that Kim is on his way to Russia for arms deal talks with Putin.
A State Department spokesperson told VOA earlier “any arms deal between the DPRK and Russia would directly violate a number of U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
DPRK is the abbreviation for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“We urge the DPRK to cease its arms negotiations with Russia. And we are taking action directly by exposing and sanctioning individuals and entities working to facilitate arms deals between Russia and the DPRK,” the State Department spokesperson added.
Kim’s expected meeting with Putin would come days after North Korea marked the country's founding anniversary with a parade of paramilitary groups and diplomatic exchanges on Saturday. Kim has vowed to deepen ties with China and Russia.
Media reports in South Korea said North Korea’s latest paramilitary parade featured columns of motorcycles with high mobility and anti-tank missile launchers towed by tractors. The North apparently did not display its intercontinental ballistic missiles and other strategic weapons.
A spokesperson from South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense told reporters in a briefing that intelligence agencies from the United States and South Korea are analyzing related developments, including public reports on North Korea's parade.
“Our military is constantly monitoring North Korea's weapons development and various provocations under a firm unified defense posture,” said the spokesperson.
U.S. officials said last week a Kim-Putin meeting was expected to take place this month, with National Security Council spokesman John Kirby expressing concerns that North Korea is considering providing military support for Russian forces fighting in Ukraine.
“A major Russia-North Korea arms deal, in breach of numerous international sanctions, should worry Beijing because association with an emerging pariah state bloc could have negative repercussions for China’s globalized but struggling economy,” according to Leif-Eric Easley, who is a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
Kim held his first summit meeting with Putin on April 25, 2019, in the Russian port city of Vladivostok.
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.