North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un is reportedly set to travel to Russia this month for a private meeting with President Vladimir Putin, according to a US official. The exact purpose and location of the meeting remain undisclosed.

Media reports suggest that the primary agenda could revolve around North Korea’s provision of weapons to support Russia in its armed conflict with Ukraine. Ukrainian forces successfully breached Russia’s first defensive line near Zaporizhzhia recently.

The meeting follows the White House’s recent announcement of progress in arms negotiations between North Korea and Russia. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby revealed that Russia’s Defence Minister, Sergei Shoigu, made overtures to Pyongyang to secure artillery ammunition during a recent visit to North Korea. The meeting was the first time the Kim Jong Un administration hosted foreign guests since the Covid-19 pandemic.

During Shoigu’s visit, North Korea showcased a range of weapons, including the Hwasong intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which is believed to be the country’s first ICBM utilising solid propellants.

South Korea’s intelligence service reported that Sergei Shoigu proposed joint naval drills involving Russia, China, and North Korea. A major concern for South Korea is that Russia would potentially supply weapons to North Korea at a crucial juncture for Pyongyang.

The nature of the proposed agreement may be more transactional than strategic, with Russia in need of weapons and North Korea seeking much-needed financial resources and food assistance. North Korea may also be interested in obtaining advanced technology from Moscow to support its satellite and nuclear-powered submarine programmes, which could have far-reaching implications for the region’s security landscape.

Media reports suggest that the secret meeting between Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin might occur in Vladivostok, a port city on the east coast of Russia. An advance team of North Korean officials had already travelled to Vladivostok and Moscow last month. This team included security officers responsible for the leadership’s travel protocol, strongly indicating the imminent occurrence of the high-stakes meeting.

Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin’s most recent meeting occurred in April 2019 when Kim arrived by train in Vladivostok. The North Korean leader might travel to Russia via an armoured train, a mode of transportation synonymous with his secretive diplomatic missions.

Meanwhile, John Everard, a former UK ambassador to North Korea, raises doubts about the meeting’s likelihood, citing the extensive publicity it has received. Kim Jong Un, known for his extreme concern for personal security, may opt to cancel the meeting if it jeopardises his safety or exposes his travel plans.

Everard also suggests that North Korea, aware of Moscow’s desperate requirement for munitions, is likely to demand a steep price for any arms deals.

Despite having stockpiles of weapons, reports indicate that many of North Korea’s armaments are in poor condition.