When North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited Russian President Vladimir V. Putin four years ago in their only previous meeting, it was primarily for a diplomatic display.
But this week he will meet Mr. Putin with the ability to deliver something the Kremlin desperately needs: munitions that could help Russian forces fighting in Ukraine.
In return, Russia could give North Korea some of what it needs – food, oil or hard currency – and transform a relationship long limited to modest trade and public displays of cooperation into something more substantial.
This type of transaction, with mutual benefits for both parties, would mark “the true end of an era with the relationship that began in 1990,” said Fyodor Tertitskiy, a senior researcher at Kookmin University in Seoul.
Since then, Tertitskiy said, relations between the two countries have been marked by “a lot of talk and no real trade,” noting that a deal in which Russia provides North Korea with something of value in exchange of ammunition would mark a departure.
It is unclear when the meeting will take place, but a train similar to the one Mr Kim prefers to use for his rare trips out of the country was photographed on Monday near the border between the two countries, heading towards Vladivostok. , the eastern Russian port city where Mr. Putin is attending an economic conference. It was also the location of their 2019 reunion.
Another meeting with Mr. Kim will be the latest example of Mr. Putin’s efforts to strengthen ties with leaders also opposed to the Western world, some of whom may help Russia in its war against Ukraine.
Mr. Putin made a rare international trip to Iran last year to meet Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, as well as the country’s president, as Russia became increasingly isolated from the West due to the invasion.
In the months that followed, Iran became a key supplier of drones to Moscow, which Russian forces used against Ukraine, both on the battlefield and in attacks on civilian infrastructure.
Mr. Putin also appeared with the Kremlin’s closest ally, Belarusian President Alexander G. Lukashenko, who gave Russia access to his country’s territory to launch its invasion of Ukraine in February. ‘last year.
The Pentagon said this month that Russia had specifically requested munitions from North Korea, noting that the request was the result of Moscow’s problems replenishing its battlefield supplies.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu visited North Korea in July on a trip that U.S. officials at the time said was aimed at reaching an arms deal.
North Korea has one of the largest militaries in the world, despite a population of only around 26 million. The country operates on war bases at all times, and artillery would be a critical part of any resumption of war with South Korea. Analysts believe that North Korea has a surplus of munitions since it has not fought a war since 1953, when the Korean armistice was signed.
Petr Akopov, a pro-war columnist for the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, suggested in a recent article that Russia could “unofficially” transfer military technology to Pyongyang and host North Korean manufacturers in occupied areas of the Ukraine, in exchange for ammunition and certain products. types of missiles.
“All this is hampered to one degree or another by UN Security Council sanctions, but there are always options to circumvent them,” Mr. Akopov wrote.
Mr. Akopov added: “The world is changing, and countries that have questioned the Western world order will not be able to change it by respecting its rules. »