Why Kim Jong Un, Putin may meet at the Vostochny Cosmodrome


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is traveling slowly through Russia’s far east on his specially equipped train to meet with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for the first time since 2019. The meeting, between two men who stand increasingly isolated by the West, signifies the growing importance of their relationship. Weapons deals are expected to dominate Putin’s agenda as he seeks to replenish Russia’s fast-diminishing ammunition stockpiles. There are also signs that the meeting could discuss space technology, a priority for Kim.

On Tuesday, Putin announced plans to visit the Vostochny Cosmodrome — Russia’s main spaceport since 2016, and a symbol of Moscow’s national ambitions for space flight. Citing unnamed Russian officials, Japanese media reported that it was where Putin is scheduled to meet Kim.

Here’s what to know about the space port, and its significance as a setting for both Russia and North Korea.

What is the Vostochny Cosmodrome and where is it?

Situated in Russia’s far eastern Amur region, some 900 miles by road north of Vladivostok, the Vostochny Cosmodrome came into service in 2016 — and symbolizes Moscow’s ambitions for pioneering space technology.

“This is now Russia’s key space launch facility,” said Dr. Mark Hilborne, a space security expert at King’s College London, in an email interview Tuesday. “It is relatively new and is entirely sovereign.”

Formally proposed by Putin in 2007, the cosmodrome was intended to reduce Russia’s dependence on other countries for its space exploration program. Since the mid-20th century, Russia’s space agency had depended on the Baikonur Cosmodrome, leased from Kazakhstan, as its primary launch site.

At the time of its opening, the Vostochny Cosmodrome was hailed as a symbol of Russia’s ambitions to explore space on its own. “It means that irrespective of anybody’s political will, we can launch any spacecraft to any space orbits independently,” top lawmaker Irina Yarovaya said in 2016. “The Vostochny spaceport is a 21st-century space launch facility and a new philosophy of modern Russia.”

The Russian and North Korean leaders are set to meet. Why, and why now?

Why would Putin choose to meet Kim at the Vostochny Cosmodrome?

The cosmodrome’s backdrop provides Putin with a powerful symbol of Russia’s ambitions for space exploration, an area long associated with projecting state power, and — in the case of the Vostochny Cosmodrome — of Russia’s ability to go it alone.

“Increasingly, states see space as a way of engaging other states, and of leveraging support from them,” Hilborne said.

Putin may also have chosen the cosmodrome in a show of support for the space port — which has been controversial domestically at times. The site has been plagued by accusations of corruption during the course of its much-delayed construction and associated with multiple launch failures.

Most recently, on Aug. 11, the uncrewed Luna-25 spacecraft took off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome for the moon, where it was intended to make a historic landing on the icy south pole. Several days later, Russia’s space agency announced that the craft had crashed into the moon’s surface.

Holding a high-profile meeting at the space center now “may be an attempt to show support for the Russian space program in light of that,” Hilborne said.

What are Kim’s ambitions for his meeting with Putin?

According to U.S. and South Korean officials and security experts, Kim is likely to ask Putin for food aid and weapons technology in return for supplying Russia with Soviet-designed munitions. But there are also hints that space exploration could be on the agenda for the pair’s meeting.

Photographs published Tuesday by North Korean state media showed Kim being accompanied on the train trip by Pak Thae Song, chairman of North Korea’s national space science and technology committee, whom the Associated Press linked in a report to Pyongyang’s efforts to obtain military spy satellites — a key priority for Kim’s regime.

Last month, North Korea said it would persevere in its efforts to launch a “space launch vehicle” — Pyongyang’s preferred moniker — into orbit after two failed attempts. The United States, South Korea and Japan condemned the most recent failed launch, considering it a breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Despite likely pressure from Pyongyang to share sensitive technological information in this area, it may not be in Russia’s interest to yield in this area.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Jack Watling, senior research fellow for land warfare at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said Russia is likely to be protective about sharing information in the area of space technology. “The Russians want to keep sanctions [against North Korea] so they have an excuse for not providing certain technology,” especially in the area of satellites, he said.

When did Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin last meet?

Putin and Kim last met in 2019 for a summit in the far eastern Russian city of Vladivostok. The meeting was dominated by an effort by the Russian leader to encourage Pyongyang to give up its nuclear arsenal — two months after failed nuclear talks between Kim and President Donald Trump.

According to Russian state media, Kim and Putin spent almost two hours in their one-on-one meeting, running far over the allotted 50-minute slot scheduled for their encounter. At the banquet that followed, Kim — wearing his usual Mao-collared black suit — raised a toast to Putin, and said, “I had a frank and substantive exchange of opinions with Mr. Putin on the development of Russian-Korean relations and the provision of peace and security on the Korean Peninsula.” During the meeting, North Korean state media reported, Kim accused Washington of acting in “bad faith.”

Putin and Kim vowed to pursue talks on nuclear issues, but the 2019 meeting yielded no substantial results.

How long does it take to get from North Korea to Russia on Kim’s train?

Like his father and grandfather, Kim prefers to travel internationally on a specially manufactured, famously slow train with a reported top speed of 55 mph. The 2019 trip from Pyongyang to Vladivostok, a journey of 435 miles, took about 20 hours in total, for an average of about 22 mph. The trip to the Vostochny Cosmodrome is about three times the distance — meaning the journey could last days.

Inside Kim Jong Un’s luxurious — and slow — armored train

Luckily for Kim, the train is equipped with luxurious fittings and advanced facilities to keep him occupied.

Photographs released by North Korean state media show glossy white interiors, long tables for briefings and carriages lined with red leather armchairs. A Russian official who traveled on the train in the past recounted crates of Burgundy wine and live lobsters, entertainment from young singers, and menus boasting Russian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and French dishes.

Safety is probably one of the main reasons the Kims have historically favored rail travel. One of Kim Jong Il’s bodyguards said that the former North Korean leader had vowed to “never” fly because he feared being shot down. Trains are also more inconspicuous than traveling by plane — which can be tracked using flight tracking data and radar technology. Many of Kim’s trips have been revealed publicly only after their completion.

Catherine Belton, Min Joo Kim and Adam Taylor contributed to this report.


Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *