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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Putin visits military HQ for Ukraine drive—Kremlin

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Moscow—Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited the military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don that is overseeing the Ukraine offensive, the Kremlin said on Friday.

Putin “has visited the Russian armed forces headquarters in Rostov-on-Don on his way back from Perm,” a city in the Urals where he spent Thursday, the Kremlin said in a statement.

Army chief of staff Valery Gerasimov met with Putin to update him on the state of the Ukraine offensive, which Russia launched in February, 2022.

The meeting came after Ukraine’s announcement on Tuesday that it had for the first time used US-supplied ATACMS long-range missiles in the conflict.

Putin said the following day that the weapons, which have a range of 165 kilometers would have no influence on the war and would only prolong Ukraine’s “agony.”

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On Thursday,  North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he wants to build a “forward-looking” relationship with Russia as he met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, state media reported.

The veteran envoy’s two-day visit is expected to lay the groundwork for a trip to the country by Putin, who was invited by Kim last month at a high-profile summit in Russia’s far east.

The September summit fanned Western fears Pyongyang might provide Moscow with weapons for its war in Ukraine.

Kim said it was the goal of the ruling workers party and the government “to work out a stable, forward-looking, far-reaching plan for the DPRK-Russia relations in the new era,” the KCNA news agency said, using the official acronym for North Korea.

Lavrov lashed out at what he termed a “dangerous” US policy towards North Korea while touting the “new, strategic level” of relations between Moscow and Pyongyang.

“Like our North Korean friends, we are seriously worried about the intensification of military activity of the United States, Japan and South Korea in the region and by Washington’s policies,” Lavrov told journalists, according to Russian news agencies.

In the face of a record-breaking series of weapons tests by Pyongyang this year, Seoul has moved to strengthen its security relationship with traditional ally the United States while entering a trilateral defense arrangement that also includes Japan.

Seoul and Washington have staged joint military exercises with advanced stealth jets and US strategic assets, while an American nuclear-armed submarine in July made a South Korean port call for the first time in decades.

A B-52 bomber capable of carrying a nuclear payload  currently sits at Cheongju airport, about 100 kilometers south of Seoul, marking the first time one has landed in the country since at least 2000.

Local media reports said this week that the bomber would take part in a joint aerial drill near the Korean peninsula on Sunday that would involve South Korea, the United States and Japan.

But North Korea’s relationship with Russia has also been tightening, Lavrov said Thursday.

“After the landmark summit … we can say confidently that relations have reached a qualitatively new, strategic level,” Lavrov reportedly told North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui at a meeting.

UKRAINE OFFENSIVE. This pool photograph distributed by Russian state owned agency Sputnik shows Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, accompanied by Army chief of staff Valery Gerasimov, visiting the military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don overseeing the country’s military action in Ukraine Thursday. AFP

Moscow is also keen to assist North Korea with its energy needs, a constant source of struggle for heavily sanctioned Pyongyang, he told Russian outlets.

Lavrov, who laid wreaths at monuments to former North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in the morning, arrived in Pyongyang on Wednesday night after accompanying Putin on a trip to Beijing.

At a welcome dinner, he praised Pyongyang’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“We highly value your principled, unambiguous support for Russia’s actions in connection with the special military operation in Ukraine,” Lavrov was quoted as saying by Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency.

Kim traveled to Russia last month aboard a specially built bullet-proof train for a face-to-face meeting with Putin, declaring bilateral ties with Moscow his country’s “number one priority”.

The two leaders met at Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome, roughly 8,000 kilometers from Moscow, a location seen as symbolic given North Korea’s space aspirations.

On Friday, the United States said arms shipments were already under way, with North Korea delivering more than 1,000 containers of military equipment and munitions to Russia in recent weeks.

According to a graphic provided by the White House, a load of containers was shipped by sea from North Korea to Russia between September 1 and October 1.

They were then delivered by rail to an ammunition depot about 290 kilometers from the Ukrainian border.

Pyongyang was seeking a range of military assistance in return, including advanced technologies,  AFP


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