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What Kim Wants From Putin: Hardware And Know-How For North Korea's Space Program

Vladimir Putin was eager to welcome Kim Jong-un for a rare visit to Russia in order to replenish depleting supplies of shells and ammunition. But North Korea has its own demands help to build satellites as part of an advanced space program.

photo of putin and kim jong-un at a space center

Putin and Kim get a tour of Russia's Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Far East

Artem Geodakyan/Kremlin
Cameron Manley


Much of the focus from Wednesday's highly anticipated Putin-Kim summit has been on the weapons that North Korea will be sending to Russia, which is short on ammunition for its war against Ukraine.

But since every bilateral summit is a give-and-take, what will North Korean leader Kim Jong-un take home to Pyongyang?

Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed during the summit at a Cosmodrome in Russia's far east that Moscow is ready to assist North Korea in the construction of satellites.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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This announcement comes as North Korea aims to transform itself into a "world-class space power."

World-class space player

The meeting took place on Wednesday morning, with Putin guiding Kim Jong-un through key facilities at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a Russian spaceport in the far-east Amur Oblast. When questioned by the press about Russia's willingness to aid North Korea in satellite construction, Putin responded, "That's why we came to the Vostochny Cosmodrome. The leader [of North Korea] shows great interest in rocket engineering, they are also trying to develop in space."

North Korea has been grappling with unsuccessful attempts to launch a military reconnaissance satellite into orbit since the spring, with two failed launches in May and August. A third attempt is scheduled for October.

Moscow’s recent space ventures hardly bode well

Japan has protested these attempts, claiming that North Korea’s constant missile launches threaten peace and security in the region. Hirokazu Matsuno, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, says that these launches, even for the sake of putting a satellite into orbit, violate UN Security Council resolutions that forbid North Korea from launching ballistic missiles under any circumstances.

According to North Korea, the country successfully launched its first satellite into space in 1998. However, according to Western media reports, the satellite was not delivered into orbit.

From 1999 to 2005, the country refrained from space launches due to a moratorium signed under pressure from the United States and Russia. After this, at least two launches of North Korean satellites were successful, this was confirmed by the United States ( in 2012 ) and Russia ( in 2016 ).

Russia had long been a formidable space power, following the success of the Soviet program on the shoulders of Yuri Gagarin's 1961 first-ever flight into outer space.

However, Moscow’s recent space ventures hardly bode well, casting doubts on the success of the two countries’ collaborative efforts. On August 20, Russia’s first moon mission in 47 years failed when its Luna-25 space craft spun out of control and crashed into the surface of the moon.

photo of North Korean missile being fired

A file photo of a North Korean missile launch shown in South Korea

Kim Jae-Hwan/SOPA Images via ZUMA

Weapons in exchange

The discussions between Putin and Kim Jong-un have also sparked speculation about potential military-technical cooperation between Russia and North Korea. Reports suggest that Russia may receive artillery shells and missiles from North Korea, potentially alleviating its ongoing struggles in the war in Ukraine.

Almost none of the ammunition is in any way advanced.

Experts note, however, that the potential supply of North Korean artillery shells and missiles to Russia may not significantly impact the global war situation due to the outdated and low-quality nature of these weapons.

“Almost none of the ammunition is in any way advanced,” Simon Wezeman, a Senior Researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told Reuters.

Patrick Hinton, a British Army fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said in a recent report that “Used correctly, artillery can shatter the will and cohesion of the enemy, offering significant opportunity to seize both ground and initiate.” However, he added that “Poorly made ammunition will have inconsistent performance - behaviors in flight may be affected which will reduce accuracy.”

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is set to participate in the negotiations with Kim Jong-un, further fueling speculations about potential ammunition supplies from North Korea to Russia. Shoigu had previously visited North Korea in July, a visit that was also associated with the possibility of ammunition transfers.

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