Kim Jong Un shows off drones and ballistic missiles to Sergei Shoigu
Russian and Chinese officials stood shoulder to shoulder with Kim Jong Un as they reviewed North Korea’s latest nuclear-capable missiles and new attack drones at a military parade in Pyongyang, North Korean state media showed on Friday.
The widely anticipated parade in the capital on Thursday night commemorated the 70th anniversary of the armistice that ended of the Korean War on July 27, 1953 – celebrated in North Korea as ‘Victory Day.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu’s visit was the first by Moscow’s top defence official since the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union. China’s visitors were the country’s first such delegation since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Their appearance at events with the North’s nuclear missiles – banned by the United Nations Security Council with Chinese and Russian support – marked a contrast with previous years, when Beijing and Moscow sought to distance themselves from their neighbour’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development.
Bizarrely, a large portrait of Putin was seen mounted in a corridor walked by Kim and Shoigu together, the Russian leader’s face seen looming over the pair from a wall opposite a second portrait of the North Korean dictator.
Kim, Shoigu and Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Li Hongzhong talked, laughed and saluted as North Korean troops marched and weapons rolled below, photos released by North Korean state media showed, before Kim gave Shoigu a tour of a plush official building adorned with portraits of Vladimir Putin. Putin’s defence minister is believed to have sealed secret agreements for new supplies of arms to deploy in his illegal war against Ukraine.
The parade included North Korea’s latest Hwasong-17 and Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to KCNA, which are believed to have the range to strike targets anywhere in the United States. The event also featured a flyover by new attack and spy drones, KCNA reported.
Kim hosted a reception and had a luncheon with Shoigu, where the North Korean leader vowed solidarity with the Russian people and its military. Shoigu remained in North Korea longer than expected – after his ministry earlier announced plans to depart on Thursday. He was shown finally leaving early Friday, his fourth day visiting the repressive state despite the demands of the war in Ukraine where he is suffering significant setbacks in Kyiv’s counteroffensive. Pro-war bloggers in Russia criticised him for having his eye off the ball as Ukraine steps up its military fightback.
Shoigu praised the North Korean military as the strongest in the world, and the two discussed strategic security and defence cooperation, KCNA said. At another meeting, Shoigu read a congratulatory speech from Russian President Putin who thanked North Korea for its support during the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine, state media reported.
Washington has accused Pyongyang of providing weapons to Russia for its war effort in Ukraine, an accusation that North Korea has angrily denied. State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said on Thursday the U.S. was ‘incredibly concerned’ about ties between Moscow and Pyongyang. Moscow has also denied conducting any arms transactions with its neighbour.
The new surveillance drones could be used to survey targets in real time, conduct damage assessment in a war and generally enhance strategic situational awareness, said Ankit Panda of the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In December five North Korean drones crossed into the South, prompting Seoul’s military to scramble fighter jets and helicopters, and increase anti-drone measures at key facilities, including the presidential office.
The new attack drones would have limited use in a war on the Korean Peninsula given their vulnerability to anti-aircraft defences, but ‘North Korea may seek to offer these drones to external customers,’ Panda said. The drones were among the weapons displayed at an arms fair toured by Kim and Shoigu this week in Pyongyang, state media photos showed.
North Korea has been under U.N. sanctions for its missile and nuclear programs since 2006. This includes a ban on the development of ballistic missiles. In recent years Russia and China have opposed U.S.-led efforts to impose further sanctions on North Korea over its continued pursuit of ballistic missiles, arguing existing measures should be eased for humanitarian purposes and to help entice Pyongyang to negotiate.
The last time North Korea invited foreign government delegates for a military parade was in February 2018, when it held a low-key event that excluded Kim’s ICBMs. North Korea at the time was initiating diplomacy with Seoul and Washington as Kim attempted to leverage his nukes for badly needed economic benefits. Those efforts led to a summit between Kim and then-U.S. President Donald Trump that June, but the diplomacy collapsed after their second meeting in February 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korean demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of their nuclear capabilities.
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