Russia’s Lavrov arrives in North Korea as cooperation deepens

Josh Smith and Guy Faulconbridge

SEOUL/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Pyongyang on Wednesday for meetings seen as setting the stage for a visit by President Vladimir Putin, who has stepped up cooperation with politically isolated North Korea.

Lavrov’s two-day visit came a month after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made a rare trip to Russia, during which he invited Putin to Pyongyang and discussed military cooperation, including on North Korea’s satellite program and the war in Ukraine.

Putin’s foreign minister, who last visited North Korea in 2018, will hold talks with his North Korean counterpart, Interfax news agency reported.

Russian news agency TASS reported that Lavrov could brief the North Koreans on the results of Putin’s visit to China, as well as discuss Putin’s potential visit.

Calling each other “comrade,” Putin and Kim last month toasted their friendship with Russian wine.

Courting Kim allows Putin, who says Moscow is locked in an existential battle with the West over Ukraine, to taunt Washington and its Asian allies while potentially securing large stockpiles of artillery for the war in Ukraine.

US Special Representative for North Korea Song Kim on Tuesday called relations between North Korea and Russia “troubling” after the White House said last week that Pyongyang had recently supplied weapons to Russia.

A growing number of reports from the US government and Western researchers are documenting with satellite imagery what they say are North Korean arms shipments to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that the West’s accusations were not based on evidence.

“They constantly report this but do not provide any evidence,” Peskov said, TASS reports. Peskov said that Russia will continue to build relations with North Korea.

On Monday, Britain’s Royal Armed Services Institute (RUSI) released dozens of high-resolution commercial satellite images that it said showed two Russian ships linked to Russian military logistics networks making multiple trips to North Korea.

The two ships have transported several hundred containers to and from North Korean ports since August, the RUSI report said.

While it was acknowledged that their contents could not be confirmed, the report said containers of the same size and color were later delivered to a newly expanded Russian ammunition storage facility near the Ukrainian border.

North Korea is under strict sanctions over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, and U.N. Security Council resolutions passed at the time with Russian support prohibit cooperation with Pyongyang on military issues as well as in a number of other areas.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Lydia Kelly in Melbourne and Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Kevin Liffey)

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