North Korean leader Kim Jong Un received body armour and drones as parting gifts while wrapping up a trip to Russia that has alarmed the West over the potential for military cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang.
The send-off capped a rare, six-day visit that saw Kim hold talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, raising the possibility North Korea could provide Russia with weaponry to aid its invasion of Ukraine.
On Sunday, Kim left the eastern city of Vladivostok, where he inspected warplanes, toured an airfield and visited a Pacific Fleet frigate, to return to Pyongyang in his heavily-armored private train following a grand farewell ceremony, Russian and North Korean state media reported.
Traveling more than 4,000 kilometers (2,400 miles) across eastern Russia, the North Korean leader was given the red carpet treatment throughout his trip, much of which was spent visiting military sites.
North Korea is heavily sanctioned and is in need of everything from energy to food to military technology.
As Kim left, the governor of the far eastern Russian region of Primorye gave him a bulletproof vest and a set of drones, Russian state news agency TASS reported.
“This is a body armor with protection zones for the chest, shoulders, throat and groin, and it is much lighter than its known analogs,” the state news agency added.
Kim was also presented with five kamikaze drones produced in the same region, as well as a Geranium-25 aircraft-type reconnaissance drone, TASS added. A set of special clothing that is invisible to thermal imaging cameras was an additional gift.
Following a farewell ceremony that included a red carpet and honor guards, Kim was seen boarding his personal train, which left Artyom railway station while Russian officials waved, in a video published by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
The train was expected to travel more than 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Artyom to the border town of Khasan, RIA reported.
Kim and Putin met in Russia’s Far East on Wednesday and engaged in a five-hour long meeting at Vostochny Cosmodrom spaceport, in which Putin said Kim showed “great interest” – North Korea has made space technology a priority.
Kim offered his support for Putin after their talks, saying “I will always be standing with Russia,” and appeared to endorse Moscow’s war on Ukraine. Putin described their discussions as “very substantive.”
In the backdrop of the meeting was the US government’s warning from earlier in the month that arms negotiations were “actively advancing” between the two countries.
No deals have been publicly announced and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the two leaders did not sign any agreements during their talks.
But the talks signaled closer relations between the two countries, both of which face international isolation – Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and North Korea for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.
North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Kim was “deeply impressed” by Russia’s aircraft manufacturing industry after a trip to the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Yuri Gagarin Aviation Plant on Friday. Kim visited various facilities, including a fighter jet fuselage assembly shop and wing production shop.
On Saturday, he inspected warplanes, toured an airfield with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and visited a Pacific Fleet frigate, accompanied by the commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy.
Military cooperation “between the armed forces of the two countries and in the fields of their national defense and security” was discussed between Kim and Shoigu, according to KCNA.
South Korea, Japan, Ukraine, the United States and European countries have been alarmed by the visit, with several nations issuing a warning regarding potential violations of international sanctions by North Korea and Russia.
While exact details remain scant on what sorts of talks have taken place behind closed doors, observers say it’s clear what each side is looking for from the other.
Moscow is desperate for fresh supplies of ammunition and shells as its war with Ukraine drags on – and Pyongyang is believed to be sitting on a stockpile.
Meanwhile, a potential deal could see North Korea get its hands on sanctioned ballistic missile technology that could be used to further its nuclear ambitions.