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Putin arrives in North Korea for the first time in 24 years 

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked North Korea to support his actions in Ukraine and said their countries would cooperate closely to overcome U.S.-imposed sanctions as he traveled to Pyongyang on Tuesday for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Putin’s comments appeared in an opinion piece in North Korean state media hours before his planned arrival for a two-day visit, as countries deepen their alignment in the face of separate and intensifying confrontations with Washington.

In the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, the streets were decorated with portraits of Putin and Russian flags. A banner hanging from a building read: “We warmly welcome the President of the Russian Federation.”

Putin, who will make his first trip to North Korea in 24 years, said he greatly appreciated the strong support for his military action in Ukraine. He said countries would continue to “resolutely oppose” what he described as Western ambitions “to hinder the establishment of a multipolar world order based on justice, mutual respect for sovereignty and taking into account the interests of everyone. Putin also said Russia and North Korea would develop trade and payment systems “that are not controlled by the West” and would jointly oppose sanctions against those countries, which he called “restrictions illegal and unilateral.

North Korea is subject to heavy economic sanctions from the UN Security Council over its nuclear weapons and missile programs, while Russia is also facing sanctions from the United States and its Western partners for its aggression in Ukraine.

Putin said the countries would also expand cooperation in tourism, culture and education.

Before heading to North Korea, Putin visited Yakutsk, a city in eastern Russia, where he reportedly planned to meet regional governor Aisen Nikolayev and receive briefings on technology and defense projects of the region.

Putin’s visit comes amid growing concerns on an arms deal in which Pyongyang supplies Moscow with badly needed munitions to supply Russia war in Ukraine in exchange for economic assistance and technology transfers that would enhance the threat posed by Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile program.

U.S. and South Korean officials say military, economic and other exchanges between North Korea and Russia have increased sharply since Kim met Putin in September in the Russian Far East, their first since 2019.

U.S. and South Korean officials accuse the North of supplying Russia with artillery, missiles and other military equipment for use in Ukraine, possibly in exchange for key military technology and aid. Pyongyang and Moscow deny accusations of North Korean arms transfers, which allegedly violate several U.N. Security Council sanctions that Russia had previously approved.

Alongside China, Russia has provided political cover for Kim’s continued efforts to expand his nuclear arsenal, repeatedly blocking U.S.-led efforts to impose new U.N. sanctions on the North over its weapons tests.

In March, a Russian veto at the UN ended monitoring of U.N. sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear program, sparking Western accusations that Moscow is seeking to avoid oversight as it buys weapons from Pyongyang for use in Ukraine. U.S. and South Korean officials said they were discussing options for a new mechanism to monitor the North.

Earlier this year, Putin sent Kim a high-end Aurus Senat limousine, which he had shown to the North Korean leader during their meeting in September. Observers said the shipment violated a U.N. resolution banning the supply of luxury items to North Korea.

John Kirby, a spokesman for the US National Security Council, said the deepening relations between Moscow and Pyongyang were concerning, “not only because of the impacts it is going to have on the Ukrainian people, but also because that we know that North Korean ballistic missiles are still being used to strike Ukrainian targets, but because there could be some reciprocity here that could affect security on the Korean peninsula. »

“We haven’t seen the parameters of this yet, and certainly not that it will come to fruition. But we’re certainly going to be watching this very, very closely,” he said.

Lim Soosuk, a spokesman for South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, said Seoul stressed to Moscow that any cooperation between Russia and North Korea must not “go in a direction that violates Security Council resolutions.” of the United Nations or which compromises peace and stability in the region.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsulas are at their highest level in years, as Kim’s two regimes keep pace combined weapons tests and military exercises involving the United States, South Korea and Japan, escalating in a tit-for-tat cycle. The Koreas also engaged in Cold War-style psychological warfare, in which North Korea dropped tons of trash on the South with balloons and the South spread anti-North Korean propaganda with its speakers.

The South Korean military said soldiers fired warning shots to repel North Korean soldiers. who temporarily crossed the land border on Tuesday for the second time this month. South Korea’s military said North Korea had stepped up construction activities in front-line border areas, including installing anti-tank barriers, reinforcing roads and laying landmines.

Putin has continually sought to rebuild ties with Pyongyang as part of efforts to restore his country’s influence and Soviet-era alliances. Moscow’s ties with North Korea weakened after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Kim Jong Un first met Putin in 2019 at the port of Vladivostok in eastern Russia.

After North Korea, the Kremlin announced that Putin would also travel to Vietnam on Wednesday and Thursday for talks expected to focus on trade. The United States, which has spent years strengthening ties and ramping up trade with Vietnam, criticized Putin’s planned visit.

“As Russia continues to seek international support to continue its illegal and brutal war against Ukraine, we reiterate that no country should give Putin a platform to promote his war of aggression and allow him to normalize its atrocities,” said the spokesperson for the American embassy in Vietnam. said in a statement.

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