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Rutte set to be NATO chief as rival drops out

Romania’s security council on Thursday announced Iohannis had formally withdrawn and that the country backed Rutte…reports Asian Lite News

Outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Thursday clinched the race to become the next head of NATO at a pivotal time for the alliance, after sole challenger Romanian President Klaus Iohannis pulled out.

The veteran politician, 57, is expected to be formally named by NATO’s 32 nations in the coming days and should take over when current chief Jens Stoltenberg’s term ends on October 1.

Rutte will come in at a perilous moment for the Western allies as Russia’s war in Ukraine drags on and Donald Trump battles to reclaim the presidency in the United States come November.

After staking his claim for the job last year following the collapse of his coalition, staunch Ukraine backer Rutte quickly won the support of heavyweights the United States, Britain, France and Germany.

But he had to use all the diplomatic skills gleaned during almost 14 years in charge of the Netherlands to win over hold-outs led by Turkiye and Hungary.

Rutte overcame Turkish reticence with an April visit to Istanbul, before finally sealing a deal with Hungary’s Viktor Orban at a European Union summit this week.

That left the last sticking point as Iohannis, whose surprise bid had ruffled feathers among allies banking on a smooth appointment for Rutte ahead of a NATO summit in Washington next month.

Romania’s security council on Thursday announced Iohannis had formally withdrawn and that the country backed Rutte.

Rutte will have a lot on his plate when he assumes the reins from Norway’s former premier Stoltenberg, who led the alliance through its most consequential decades since the end of the Cold War.

Just weeks after his four-year term is expected to start, voters in the United States will go to the polls in a crunch vote to chose between incumbent Joe Biden and Trump.

The prospect of the volatile former president returning to the Oval office has rattled allies fearful that he could weaken superpower Washington’s role as Europe’s ultimate security guarantor.

Trump fueled those fears on the campaign trail by saying he would encourage Russia to attack NATO countries not spending enough on their own defense.

Like Stoltenberg, Rutte won plaudits for his careful handling of Trump during his first term in power — when the ex-reality TV star reportedly even mulled pulling the United States out of NATO.

“I think Mark Rutte is a very strong candidate,” Stoltenberg said on a visit to Washington Tuesday. “He has a lot of experience as prime minister. He’s a close friend and colleague.”

While Trump’s return could pose one major challenge — to NATO’s east Rutte will face the far more pressing menace from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin’s forces are currently on the front foot in Ukraine after more than two years of brutal conflict, and the NATO chief will have a key role marshalling aid from Kyiv’s weary backers.

At the same time Rutte will have to ensure the alliance is ready to defend against any potential future attack from Moscow — if, or more likely when, Putin is able to rebuild his forces.

Part of that will involve corralling European allies to spend more on defense — a key demand from Trump, and other US leaders.

This week NATO announced that 23 out of its 32 member countries had hit the alliance’s target of spending two percent of their gross domestic product on defense.

Dubbed “Teflon Mark” for his ability to remain in power for so long in the Netherlands, Rutte will become the fourth Dutchman to lead NATO since it emerged from the ashes of World War II to confront the Soviet Union.

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Le Pen’s National Rally seen leading vote in French polls

Another poll by Harris Interactive — conducted for RTL radio, M6 TV and Challenges Magazine — put the RN at 33 percent, while the left was seen at 26 percent and Macron’s camp at 21 percent…reports Asian Lite News

Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally is seen leading the race ahead of France’s parliamentary elections, three polls showed on Thursday, ahead of the leftwing Popular Front and President Emmanuel Macron’s centrists.

Pollster IFOP in a survey for broadcasting group TF1 and Le Figaro said the National Rally (RN) would secure 34 percent of the vote, while the Popular Front would reach 29 percent and Macron’s Together bloc would get 22 percent.

Another poll by Harris Interactive — conducted for RTL radio, M6 TV and Challenges Magazine — put the RN at 33 percent, while the left was seen at 26 percent and Macron’s camp at 21 percent.

A third poll published on Thursday, by OpinionWay on behalf of CNews TV, Europe 1 radio and the Journal du Dimanche paper, also put the RN in the lead with 35 percent of the votes, ahead of the Popular Front which had 27 percent and Macron’s camp which had 20 percent.

The simulation of the national popular vote does not allow for a direct forecast of the balance of power in France’s next National Assembly, as the election on June 30 and July 7 is held as a two-round majority vote in each district.

The Harris poll, however, made rough seat projections and forecast 235 to 280 seats for RN and its allies, which would fall short of the 289 needed for an absolute majority but make it by far the largest bloc.

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Ukraine, EU extend freight transport deal for another year

According to him, in the past 18 months, Ukraine’s exports to the EU increased by 48 per cent backed by permit-free freight transport travel…reports Asian Lite News

Ukraine and the EU have amended and extended their agreement on freight transport liberalisation, which was due to expire on June 30, for another year, the Ukrainian government press service reported.

The updated deal includes provisions for prolonging the cancellation of special permits for haulers travelling between Ukraine and the EU.

At the same time, the agreement created new mutual obligations between the parties regarding transport licenses and the labelling of trucks.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said the “transport visa-free regime” with the EU would contribute to Ukraine’s integration into the European economic space and spur the country’s economy.

“It will ensure positive dynamics of exports to the EU countries, which will make us more economically sustainable,” Shmyhal added.

According to him, in the past 18 months, Ukraine’s exports to the EU increased by 48 per cent backed by permit-free freight transport travel.

Ukraine and the EU signed the freight transport deal in June 2022. At the end of last year, Polish carriers staged protests at several checkpoints on the Ukrainian border, demanding the return of the permit regime for Ukrainian haulers crossing into the EU.

The updated agreement includes a clause that a permit-free regime for Ukrainian carriers could be automatically extended until the end of 2025.

Putin warns South Korea

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said South Korea would be making a “big mistake” if it supplies arms to Ukraine.

“If that happens, then we will make corresponding decisions that will not please the current leadership of South Korea,” Putin said on Thursday during a trip to Vietnam.

The South Korean government had earlier expressed concern over a new Russia-North Korea strategic partnership that includes a vow of mutual aid if either country is attacked.

Seoul said the security commitments violated UN sanctions imposed on Pyongyang. It also suggested it could reconsider its long-standing policy of not supplying weapons to Kiev.

North Korea, ruled by President Kim Jong Un, is subject to far-reaching UN sanctions and import bans due to its nuclear weapons programme, including the trade in weapons and the transfer of military technologies to the country.

During a state visit to Pyongyang on Wednesday, Putin signed the partnership agreement with Kim. At a press conference in Hanoi on Thursday, Putin called Seoul’s concerns unfounded.

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Zelensky Boosts Solar Energy Amid Russian Attacks

Zelensky pledged to build more facilities for decentralised energy supply to ensure administration and critical infrastructure buildings had an alternative energy source during power outages…reports Asian Lite News

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has announced a major initiative to expand the country’s solar energy infrastructure as part of efforts to stabilize the energy grid, which has been heavily damaged by Russian attacks.

“The government has been tasked with immediately presenting a program to encourage the installation of solar generation and energy storage systems in Ukraine,” Zelensky said in his daily video address on Thursday.

According to the plan, citizens who install solar panels will be able to receive an interest-free loan.

The President said that measures were taken to protect energy facilities from ongoing attacks by Russia and specific deadlines were established for the completion of the protective structures.

Zelensky pledged to construct more facilities for decentralized energy supply, ensuring that administrative and critical infrastructure buildings have alternative energy sources during power outages.

Ukraine has been defending itself against a full-scale Russian invasion for more than two years.

Official figures show that about half of Ukraine’s energy production capacity has been lost due to systematic Russian attacks on Ukrainian energy facilities with drones and missiles.

Strict energy rationing and daily power cuts have been implemented, with concerns about the situation worsening in the winter.

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EU Agrees on New Russia Sanctions

The EU punitive measures are intended, in particular, to prevent Russia from obtaining Western technology…reports Asian Lite News

EU member states have agreed to a new package of sanctions on Russia, aimed largely at cracking down on loopholes that circumvent existing measures, the Belgian EU presidency announced on Thursday.

“This package provides new targeted measures and maximises the impact of existing sanctions by closing loopholes,” the Belgian presidency posted on X.

Since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the European Union has targeted the Russian economy, institutions, and officials linked to the war with multiple rounds of sanctions.

As the invasion drags on, Russia has worked hard to circumvent the punitive measures, to secure more resources for their military and to keep their economy running.

At the same time, the EU and other Western countries, including the US, are concerned loopholes in the sanctions undermine compliance from companies doing business with Russia.

The EU punitive measures are intended, in particular, to prevent Russia from obtaining Western technology that the defence industry can use to manufacture weapons for the war in Ukraine.

Approval of the latest – 14th – sanctions package was delayed by several days, as diplomats in Brussels cited German concerns over business regulation as the main reason why negotiations took so long to finalise.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz acknowledged at the weekend that Berlin was concerned such sanctions could potentially penalise Germany’s export-oriented firms.

EU countries pushing for decisive action on sanctions evasion, however, pointed to European Commission estimates that products worth millions of euros were still being delivered to Russia via subsidiaries of European companies, despite sanctions in place to stop this.

EU diplomats said a compromise was eventually reached, allowing measures halting exports to Russia to not apply to subsidiaries for the time being.

This so-called “No-Russia” clause requires EU companies to contractually prohibit the re-export of certain categories of sensitive goods to Russia, including goods related to aviation, jet fuel, and firearms.

EU foreign ministers meeting on Monday must formally adopt the sanctions for them to take effect.

EU diplomats said the latest package also contains plans to target Russia’s multi-billion dollar liquefied natural gas (LNG) sector for the first time.

Ports such as Zeebrugge in Belgium are to be banned from being used to ship Russian LNG to countries outside of the EU, according to diplomats.

Belgium chaired the negotiations on the new round of sanctions as the current holder of the rotating EU presidency.

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Open letter to Germany Chancellor decries outsourcing asylum

According to the authors, current debate about the plan in both Germany and other EU countries is already having an impact…reports Asian Lite News

More than 300 advocacy groups and international organizations have written an open letter to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz opposing the possibility of holding asylum seekers in third countries for processing.

“Please issue a clear rejection of plans to outsource asylum procedures,” the authors demand in the letter published on Wednesday. The signatories include Amnesty International Germany, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and the migrant advocacy group Pro Asyl.

The open letter was released ahead of Scholz’s meeting with the the leaders of Germany’s 16 states on Thursday in Berlin, where the issue is expected to be a major topic.

Germany’s Interior Ministry is currently examining the possibility of outsourcing asylum proceedings to third countries outside the European Union.

State-level interior ministers also begin convening on Wednesday evening for three days of talks which are expected to be dominated with talk of migration policy, asylum and deportations. They are meeting in Potsdam, a Berlin suburb.

The killing of a policeman by a knife-wielding migrant in late May in the German city of Mannheim has prompted renewed debate about whether Germany should deport people convicted of serious crimes to countries like Syria and Afghanistan.

The authors of the open letter warn that serious human rights abuses are foreseeable if asylum proceedings are outsourced to countries outside the EU. They argue that receiving asylum-seekers and integrating them into society can work smoothly with greater cooperation.

“Plans to deport refugees to non-European third countries or to carry out asylum procedures outside the EU, on the other hand, do not work in practice, are extremely expensive and pose a threat to the rule of law,” the letters states.

According to the authors, current debate about the plan in both Germany and other EU countries is already having an impact.

“Such plans often cause great fear among refugees and increase the risk of self-harm and suicide,” according to the letter.

Scholz announced plans to resume deportations to those countries after the Mannheim attack, despite concerns from advocates about the human rights abuses there. Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck, a Green, spoke out in favour of that on Wednesday as well.

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Putin and Kim Jong-un forge ‘breakthrough’ partnership  

During their meeting, Putin presented Kim with an Aurus car, repeating a gift from a previous encounter, and a tea set, while details of what Putin received were not disclosed but described as “also good gifts” by his aide Yuri Ushakov…reports Asian Lite News

Vladimir Putin has declared a significant elevation in ties between Russia and North Korea, emphasising a commitment to mutual assistance in the event of aggression, following what he described as a “breakthrough” strategic partnership announced during his rare visit to the reclusive state, CNN reported.

Thousands of North Koreans chanting “welcome Putin” lined the city’s wide boulevards brandishing Russian and North Korean flags and bouquets of flowers as Putin commenced his first visit to North Korea in 24 years.

According to Russian state news agency TASS, the leaders signed a comprehensive partnership agreement that supersedes previous accords from 1961, 2000, and 2001. Putin elaborated on the agreement, stating, “The comprehensive partnership agreement signed today includes, among other things, the provision of mutual assistance in the event of aggression against one of the parties to this agreement.”

He hailed the pact as covering political, trade, investment, cultural, and security spheres, labelling it a “truly breakthrough document.” Putin also criticised joint military exercises involving the United States, South Korea, and Japan as “hostile” towards North Korea, characterizing US policy as “confrontational.” In response, Kim Jong-un praised the new “alliance” as a pivotal moment in bilateral relations.

The visit saw exuberant celebrations at a welcome ceremony in Kim Il Sung Square, where mounted soldiers, military personnel, and children with balloons cheered against a backdrop of large portraits of the two leaders. They exchanged greetings and stood together as the Russian national anthem played, later riding in an open-top limousine, smiling and waving to crowds, as reported by CNN.

During their meeting, Putin presented Kim with an Aurus car, repeating a gift from a previous encounter, and a tea set, while details of what Putin received were not disclosed but described as “also good gifts” by his aide Yuri Ushakov.

Putin arrived in North Korea exactly 24 years after his last visit to Pyongyang, heralding a deepening alignment between the two nations amid mutual animosity towards the West and international concerns over their growing military cooperation.

Accusations by multiple governments suggest Pyongyang has provided arms to Moscow for its ongoing conflict in Ukraine, allegations both countries have denied despite substantial evidence. Ahead of their talks, Kim expressed full support for Russia’s efforts, particularly in Ukraine, to protect sovereignty, safety, and territorial stability.

Putin underscored the relationship’s foundation on equality and mutual respect, foreseeing a new bilateral agreement as a cornerstone for future relations. He expressed hope for Kim’s visit to Moscow for their next meeting, according to CNN.

The burgeoning relationship has raised concerns in Seoul and Washington over North Korea’s arms transfers to Russia and the potential for Moscow to support Pyongyang’s heavily sanctioned weapons program with advanced military technology.

Kim, continuing a dynasty’s firm rule over North Korea, welcomed Putin visibly at the airport, marking a significant diplomatic boost amid heavy sanctions on missile and nuclear programs, with no other world leader visiting since the pandemic.

Tensions remain high on the Korean Peninsula, exacerbated by Kim’s recent bellicose rhetoric and abandonment of a policy seeking peaceful reunification with South Korea, reacting to increased coordination among the US, South Korea, and Japan.

North Korean state media portrayed a close rapport between Kim and Putin, citing exchanges of thoughts and a commitment to strengthening relations during their journey from the airport to the Kumsusan State Guest House.

Putin’s visit follows Kim’s significant visit to Russia last year, seen as initiating a new chapter based on Russian arms needs amid the offensive in Ukraine. Reports indicate Russia received over 10,000 containers from North Korea since September, equivalent to 260,000 metric tons of munitions or related material, with at least 10 North Korean-made missiles launched on Ukraine by Russian forces.

Putin, seen as securing continued support amid delayed American military aid to Ukraine, thanked North Korea for consistent support against US hegemony and imperialism, highlighting shared opposition to a US-led global order.

He linked the meeting to historic ties, recalling past generations’ contributions to bilateral relations, notably his 2000 meeting with Kim Jong Il, Kim’s father, the first Russian head of state to visit North Korea, reciprocated by a nine-day rail journey to Moscow.

Despite historical ties, relations shifted with the Soviet Union’s collapse, and Russia established diplomatic relations with Seoul, supporting UN sanctions on North Korea’s weapons program.

Recent diplomacy reflects shared frustrations with the West, deepening ties accelerated by the Ukraine conflict, granting North Korea a powerful ally in the UN Security Council.

In March, Moscow vetoed a UN resolution renewing independent monitoring of North Korea’s sanctions violations, raising concerns over their relationship and weakened controls on Kim’s illicit weapons program.

Their new agreement this week supersedes previous treaties and declarations from 2000 and 2001, affirming a growing alliance amid international scrutiny and regional tensions, CNN reported. (ANI)

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Kim Vows Support for Russia in Ukraine War

Experts said Putin’s trip will likely pave the way for the two countries to deepen military cooperation beyond arms transactions …reports Asian Lite News

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Wednesday expressed “full support” for Russia’s war in Ukraine and pledged to strengthen strategic cooperation with Moscow as he held summit talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Pyongyang amid deepening concerns about their military cooperation.

Kim said relations between the two countries are “entering a new period of prosperity”, as he praised Russia’s role in the global strategic balance and vowed to “strengthen strategic cooperation” with Moscow, according to the Russian news agency TASS.

“The government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea expresses its full support and solidarity with the Russian government, Army and people in conducting the special military operation in Ukraine to protect sovereignty, security interests, and territorial integrity,” Kim was quoted as saying.

Putin expressed gratitude to Kim for Pyongyang’s support for Moscow’s policy on Ukraine and also voiced hope to hold the next summit with Kim in Moscow, TASS reported.

After the summit, Putin and Kim signed a “comprehensive strategic partnership treaty” to bolster bilateral ties, Russian news reports said, without disclosing details.

The Russian leader earlier said a new “fundamental document” has been prepared to serve as a basis for relations between the two countries, Yonhap news agency reported.

The two leaders met again nine months after they held a summit in Russia’s Far East last September, as Russia, under international sanctions over its war with Ukraine, has been bolstering military and other cooperation with North Korea.

Putin arrived in North Korea early Wednesday on his first trip to the reclusive country in 24 years. Ahead of the summit, an official welcoming ceremony was held at Kim Il Sung Square in central Pyongyang.

Since the Kim-Putin summit last year, the two nations have been bolstering military ties, with the North being accused of supplying Russia with ammunition for use in Moscow’s war in Ukraine in exchange for aid and suspected technological assistance for its space program.

Experts said Putin’s trip will likely pave the way for the two countries to deepen military cooperation beyond arms transactions while cementing their solidarity against the United States.

Analysts said Kim and Putin are expected to adopt a joint declaration that calls for both sides to elevate the level of military, security and economic cooperation but saw a low possibility of them clinching a treaty akin to a military alliance.

North Korea and the former Soviet Union signed a treaty of friendship and mutual assistance in 1961. The treaty included a provision for so-called automatic military intervention, under which if one side is under an armed attack, the other provides military troops and other aid without hesitation.

North Korea and Russia signed a new treaty of bilateral ties in 2000, but it did not contain such a provision as it centred on cooperation in the economy, science and culture.

Experts said North Korea and Russia are expected to highlight cooperation in the economic sector as any arms deals and military cooperation violate United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions banning Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

In an article published on Tuesday by the Rodong Sinmun, the North’s main newspaper, Putin vowed to build alternative systems for trade and settlements with North Korea that will not be controlled by the West and jointly resist “illegal and unilateral restrictions” in an apparent reference to international sanctions.

Experts said Russia is expected to assist North Korea’s space development program in exchange for Pyongyang’s arms supplies, but it is not likely to transfer sensitive weapons technology to Pyongyang.

In late May, North Korea’s attempt to launch a military spy satellite ended in failure as a satellite-carrying rocket exploded right after liftoff. In November last year, North Korea successfully placed a spy satellite into orbit, and it has a plan to launch three more such satellites in 2024.

The two leaders could discuss the issue of North Korea’s dispatch of its workers at the summit, experts said. The North has a desperate need to earn foreign currency due to international sanctions, while Russia has been facing a labour shortage amid its war with Ukraine.

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DRDO, Indian firms showcase India-made weapons, tech in Paris

A large number of Indian companies are taking part in the show with the DRDO showcasing 11 major defence technologies and products…reports Asian Lite News

Indian defence sector firms from both public and private sectors are participating in the EUROSATORY 2024 defence show in France.

The exhibition is showcasing Indian products like the Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launcher system and the LCA Tejas fighter aircraft.

The India pavilion at the show was inaugurated on Monday, June 17 by Indian Ambassador to France Jawed Ashraf.

Bharat Electronics Limited Directors Manoj Jain and K V Suresh Kumar, Brig Zubin Bhatnagar, Defence Attache of India to France, and senior Defence Public Sector Undertakings and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) officials were present on the occasion, Bharat Electronics Limited officials said.

A large number of Indian companies are taking part in the show with the DRDO showcasing 11 major defence technologies and products.

One of the prime attractions from the Indian side is the Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launcher system which has already been exported by India to a friendly foreign country.

The DRDO is also showcasing its Airborne Early Warning and Control System, LCA Tejas, Astra beyond visual range missiles and the highly successful Akash air defence system.

The Arjun main battle tank and the Wheeled Armoured Platform along with the Varunastra heavy-weight torpedo are also on showcase.

A large number of Indian private sector companies like Nibe Defence, Bharat Forge among other small and medium enterprises are also participating in the show.

Eurosatory-2024 is being held in Paris, France and is one of the largest defence shows in Europe.

The show is taking place at a time when almost all the countries in that region are looking to expand their defence spending in view of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict. (ANI)

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Putin arrives in North Korea for his first visit in 24 years

Putin is scheduled to travel to Hanoi in a display of Communist-governed Vietnam’s ties to Russia that is likely to rankle the United States…reports Asian Lite News

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in North Korea on Wednesday morning (local time) on his first official visit to the East Asian nation in 24 years and is expected to meet with his counterpart Kim Jong Un, CNN reported.

This is a rare overseas trip for Putin since he launched the invasion of Ukraine in 2022, and a key moment for Kim, who has not hosted another world leader in his politically isolated country since the COVID-19 pandemic.

This visit comes after North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong Un extended an invitation to Putin in September 2023. Putin last visited Pyongyang in July 2000 and this trip is a sign of the two countries’ deepening alignment and Moscow’s need to source weapons from Pyongyang to sustain its war on Ukraine, reported CNN.

Putin’s aide Yuri Ushakov also commented on his trip to North Korea during a press conference Monday and stated that his trip will have an eventful agenda. Both leaders plan to sign a new strategic partnership.

Ushakov insisted the agreement is not provocative or aimed against other countries, but is meant to ensure greater stability in northeast Asia. He said the new agreement will replace documents signed between Moscow and Pyongyang in 1961, 2000 and 2001.

The streets of Pyongyang were decorated with Russian flags and posters of Vladimir Putin ahead of his early Wednesday morning arrival, his first visit to North Korea since 2000.

Putin’s visit will be closely watched across the world and is expected to cement further the burgeoning partnership between the two powers that is founded on their shared animosity toward the West and driven by Moscow’s need for munitions for its war in Ukraine.

Following his visit to North Korea, Putin is scheduled to travel to Hanoi in a display of Communist-governed Vietnam’s ties to Russia that is likely to rankle the United States.

Regarding Putin’s visit US national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Monday the Biden administration wasn’t “concerned about the trip” itself, but added, “What we are concerned about is the deepening relationship between these two countries.”

The US, South Korea and other countries have accused North Korea of providing substantial military aid to Russia’s war effort in recent months, while observers have raised concerns that Moscow may be violating international sanctions to aid Pyongyang’s development of its nascent military satellite program. Both countries have denied arms transfer.

Putin’s trip reciprocates one Kim made last September, when the North Korean leader travelled in his armoured train to Russia’s far eastern region, for a visit that included stops at a factory that produces fighter jets and a rocket-launch facility. (ANI)

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