SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attended a photo session with participants celebrating the 75th anniversary of the country’s founding but stayed away from other events amid reports that he would soon leave for a trip to Russia.
Celebrations on Saturday were packed with dedications of floral baskets to past leaders, banquets, concerts for a visiting Chinese delegation, and a performance by Russian army song and dance ensemble, KCNA news agency reported on Sunday.
KCNA made no mention of Kim other than attending a photo session at the courtyard of the mausoleum that houses the bodies of his father and grandfather, as he praised the people “who put state affairs above their family affairs in good or bad days”.
“The patriots are the best assets representing the very might of the country … as the Workers’ Party of Korea is ushering in the era of great transformation unprecedented in the history of the country by relying on such people,” he said.
Kim was expected to travel to Russia’s far-eastern city of Vladivostok to meet President Vladimir Putin to discuss weapons supplies and other military cooperation, likely on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum scheduled to start on Sunday.
North Korea’s state media have been silent about the trip, first reported by the New York Times citing U.S. officials, which South Korea’s intelligence agency said was possible. The Kremlin said it had “nothing to say” on the matter.
If he makes the trip, probably by his armoured train, it would be just the second visit to Russia for Kim as he looks to forge deeper ties with an increasingly isolated Moscow when Pyongyang can reap clear benefits from Putin’s need for friends.
North Korea and Russia have denied they were in arms negotiations but the United States last week said such talks are actively advancing and warned it would be a mistake for Kim to supply weapons that Putin can use in Ukraine.
North Korea in turn may be looking to fill shortfalls in military resources such as in its development of nuclear weapons that can be delivered by ballistic missiles and nuclear submarines, analysts have said.
North Korea last week launched with great fanfare and attended by Kim what it called its first “tactical nuclear attack submarine,” a vessel that appeared to be a modified Soviet-era submarine with 10 launch tube hatches.
South Korea’s military said the submarine did not appear ready for normal operations, and that there were signs North Korea was attempting to fabricate or exaggerate its capabilities.
(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Michael Perry)