High stakes and shrouded in secrecy: The motive behind Putin and Kim Jong Un's meeting

Putin meets with Kim Jong Un. Credit: AP

Kim Jong Un has arrived in Russia for a rare, high stakes and tight security meeting with President Putin.

Like his father and grandfather before him, Kim made the long journey by rail.

His stately green carriages are bulletproof, and he has dozens of security personnel on board.

With smoke billowing out from the engine, it offers an almost majestic vision as it trundles through the countryside, and tourists at the Russia-North Korea-China border were excited to see if they could catch a glimpse of it passing.

Moving at 37mph due to its reinforcements, you’ve got plenty of time to get your camera out.

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North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, steps down from his train after crossing the border to Russia at Khasan. Credit: AP

Kim is meeting with Vladimir Putin on Wednesday at a commercial space centre and then a jet fighter manufacturer.

It is the North Korean leader's first departure from his country in more than four years.

His country was the first to close its borders when the pandemic started in January 2020 and he has only recently allowed the resumption of some limited travel, mostly for senior officials and national sports teams.

Details of his movements are always shrouded in secrecy for security and controlling propaganda purposes.

US intelligence first signalled there could be a meeting between the North Korean leader and President Putin while the Eastern Economic Forum was taking place in Vladivostok.

And on Sunday evening Kim’s train was duly spotted making its way towards the border.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un examine a launch pad of Soyuz rockets. Credit: AP

The two leaders have only met once before, four years ago, also at the Russian border.

Their nations have a complicated history.

President Putin had good relations with Kim’s father Kim Jong Il and North Korea.

Kim, along with Syria, has recognised Russian-backed control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Eastern Ukraine.

He has also offered his full support and solidarity for the so-called “all-out struggle” in Ukraine.

Historically meetings between the nations have produced little in the way of trade, in fact last year there was zero trade between the countries and in previous years it has been negligible.

The relationship between these nuclear neighbours has been largely symbolic and diplomatic, with both sharing an anti-US sentiment.

But it is thought Kim and Putin could be preparing to agree a deal on arms.

Russia desperately needs more arsenal for its war machine in Ukraine and North Korea wants money, and technology to support its own weapons programme.

Any deal on weapons would breach several UN sanctions, and the United States, Japan and South Korea have all warned against such trade violations.

It’s believed North Korea has already defied sanctions to provide Russia with arms on the battlefield, and Moscow might be looking to secure more artillery shells, rockets, and other Soviet-era ammunition from North Korea.

It would help refill depleted stocks in a war which has already gone many months beyond the Kremlin’s expectations.

In return Kim is thought to want Russian technology to build high-tech weapons systems, nuclear-powered submarines, and spy satellites.

He will also likely seek much need food and energy for his people.

Kim Jong Un waves from his train. Credit: AP

There is scarce information about how the North Korean people have coped during the pandemic - with several seasons of extreme weather during that isolation and Kim’s strict regime under those conditions.

The first meeting President Putin had at the Eastern Economic Forum on Tuesday was with the Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Guoqing. At that meeting he said relations with China had reached ‘’an absolutely unprecedented historic level.”

The Chinese Communist Party will be watching the meetings between Kim and Putin very closely, but they would not be taking place without the approval of Beijing.

The outcomes, even the timings will all have approval from China - it is the biggest supporter of both nations and North Korea is almost entirely dependent on China for its trade.

The three nations are neighbours, and they are aligned in seeking to end so-called Western or US-led hegemony and challenge global order.

There are no formal alliances between the countries, and China is the dominant party seeking to place itself at the centre of a new Eastern sphere of influence.

It is a dangerous combination of desperation and hubris which could result in a deal being done on arms between Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin. A trade in terror that could have threatening consequences for the world.

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