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Why is Kim Jong Un in Russia and why does he travel by bulletproof train?

Rocket power: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pictured giving an order to test-fire the newly developed intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-15 ( EPA / KCNA)
Rocket power: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pictured giving an order to test-fire the newly developed intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-15 ( EPA / KCNA)

Kim Jong Un, the secretive leader of North Korea, has arrived in Khasan, far-east Russia, to meet with president Vladimir Putin.

Amid ballistic missile tests and “weapon talks”, experts believe that the meeting could lead to a trade agreement for arms, aid, and defence technology. Both Moscow and Pyongyang have so far denied that this was the goal of their meeting.

So far at the closely watched political meet-up, the red carpet was rolled out at the Vostochny space centre, where the sanctioned state leaders exchanged initial pleasantries.

Kim Jong Un’s journey to Russia took two days, during which time he travelled by heavily armored train across the region with his closest confidantes. At least, however, he travelled in style — with his secret train reportedly featuring pink leather armchairs among other bizarre amenities.

So what does the meeting between Russia and North Korea really mean — and what do we know about this slow-moving bulletproof train?

Why is Kim Jong Un in Russia?

Kim Jong Un speaks to Russian Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology Alexander Kozlov during a welcome ceremony (Press Office of the Primorsky Krai region administration via AP)
Kim Jong Un speaks to Russian Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology Alexander Kozlov during a welcome ceremony (Press Office of the Primorsky Krai region administration via AP)

While Russia and North Korea have denied they are meeting to discuss an arms deal, the international community believes the states will broker some sort of arrangement to fuel the Ukraine war.

Both leaders have become increasingly isolated in their pursuit of military endeavours over the past few years.

Putin has exhausted large swathes of military reserves and ammunition in order to fuel an unlawful war in Ukraine over the past 18 months. The Russian leader has only achieved slim advances while suffering severe casualties during the conflict.

Meanwhile North Korea, it is believed, would receive help for an ailing programme to launch spy satellites. However, it’s likely that any agreement that is made during the meeting will remain confidential.

What’s this ‘bulletproof train’ all about?

Independent journalists were not given access to cover Kim Jong Un being greeted by Alexander Kozlov (Korean Central News Agency / Korea News Service via AP)
Independent journalists were not given access to cover Kim Jong Un being greeted by Alexander Kozlov (Korean Central News Agency / Korea News Service via AP)

Kim Jong Un is one of the most secretive leaders in the world. However, we do know that one of his favourite ways to travel is with a slow-moving, heavily armoured train.

Of course, he chose to travel in style while he made his way to Russia, with reports confirming on Tuesday that the leader had left North Korea on his green train and crossed the border in the direction of Vladivostok.

Again, few details are actually known about the train, except for the fact it’s considered ‘bulletproof’, heavily armoured, and slow-moving.

Local South Korean outlets have reported that the train consists of up to 90 carriages and actually forms part of a three-train convoy that’s used to make sure the tracks are clear and all his security personnel are available. The train, due to its heavily reinforced structure, is also said to travel at around 40 mph and features conference rooms and TV screens.

According to Russian official Konstantin Pulikovsky, who wrote an account of the time he travelled on the North Korean train, it boasts a very opulent interior. His accounts claim the train features French wine, fresh lobster, and female singers.

AlJazeera has also reported that the train allegedly includes a helicopter that can be used for escape.

Is this something other world leaders do?

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un speak at a rocket assembly hangar during their meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome (Artyom Geodakyan, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un speak at a rocket assembly hangar during their meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome (Artyom Geodakyan, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Kim Jong Un appears to have followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who preferred train travel to flying. However, while Kim Jong-il had a reported fear of flying, Kim Jong Un has travelled by plane on some occasions.

Travelling by a slow armoured train is very limiting for the North Korean leader. In this case, the train also reportedly had to stop at the Russian border and change wheels to fit onto Russian tracks.

Time delays and restricted track access mean that train travel isn’t often the preferred mode of transport for global leaders on tight schedules.

However, it’s not unheard of. For example, US President Joe Biden travelled on ‘Rail Force One’ when he went by train from Poland to Ukraine.