Russia gives Kim Jong Un an inside look at its warplanes

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Seoul, South Korea

Kim Jong Un was “deeply impressed” by a visit to a Russian aircraft manufacturing plant on Friday, according to North Korean state media.

Kim toured facilities for aircraft design and assembly at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Yuri Gagarin Aviation Plant, where he was struck by “the rich independent potential and modernity of the Russian aircraft manufacturing industry,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Saturday.

He met test pilots, climbed aboard a Su-57 fifth-generation fighter jet, and watched a test flight of the airplane, KCNA said.

The stop was Kim’s latest on a tour of Russia that follows his meeting with President Vladimir Putin earlier this week, at which the North Korean leader appeared to endorse Moscow’s war on Ukraine.

The meeting has led to speculation around the potential for some kind of military cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang.

The facility Kim toured on Friday is Russia’s largest aviation manufacturing plant and builds and develops warplanes for the ministry of defense, including Su-35S and Su-57 fighter jets, according to the Russian state media agency TASS. Kim’s late father, Kim Jong Il, visited it in 2002.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits an aircraft manufacturing plant in the city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur in Russia on September 15, 2023.

On Friday’s visit Kim “expressed sincere regard for Russia’s aviation technology” and how it had undergone “rapid development, outpacing the outside potential threats, and wished the plant success in its future development,” KCNA reported.

After the tour and a luncheon, Kim left a message in the visitor’s book saying, “Witnessing the rapid development of Russia’s aviation technology and its gigantic potential” before signing it with the date and his name.

Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported on Saturday morning local time that Kim had arrived at the Knevichi airfield in Vladivostok, where he met the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

It said the two toured the airfield and Kim was shown the Russian aircraft Tu-160, Tu-95MS and Tu-22M3.

Kim also saw the Su-34, Su-30SM, Su-35S fighter jets along with the Su-25SM3 attack aircraft, RIA added.

The Kinzhal hypersonic missile system and Russia’s Tu-214 long-haul passenger airplane were also on display for Kim as he toured the airfield with Shoigu.

Putin had previously said that Kim would view the military capabilities of Russia’s Pacific Fleet while in Vladivostok.

According to a Russian government press release on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov said Moscow saw “the potential for cooperation both in aircraft manufacturing and in other industries” with North Korea.

“This is especially relevant for achieving the tasks our countries face to achieve technological sovereignty,” he said in a statement circulated on Telegram.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits an aircraft manufacturing plant in the city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur in Russia on September 15, 2023.

While exact details remain scant on what sorts of talks have taken place behind closed doors, observers say it’s clear what each is look 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, after years of sanctions over its nuclear weapon and missiles program, North Korea is equally in need of everything from energy to food to military technology, all of which Russia has.

When the two leaders met at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Amur Region, a reporter asked Putin whether Russia would help North Korea “launch its own satellites and rockets” – to which Putin responded, “That’s exactly why we came here.”

The Russian president also said Kim “shows great interest in space, in rocketry, and they are trying to develop space”.

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