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Putin's car gift to Kim showcases 'special' bond, defying UN sanctions

Feb. 20, 2024 - 15:17 By Ji Da-gyum
Russia's President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un attend a meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the far eastern Amur region, Russia, September 13, 2023. (File Pool Photo via Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin presented North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with a gift of a Russia-produced car exclusively "for his personal use," North Korean state media reported Tuesday. The South Korean government decried the gift as a breach of UN Security Council resolutions.

The Rodong Sinmun, which primarily targets internal audiences as North Korea's most widely circulated newspaper, featured the news on its front page without disclosing specifics about the vehicle gifted to Kim, including its manufacturer and brand.

The newspaper reported that the gift was delivered to Kim Yo-jong, the sister of the North Korean leader and vice director of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, along with Pak Jong-chon, secretary of the Party Central Committee, on Sunday.

At a delivery event, Kim Yo-jong said the "gift sent by President Putin to Comrade Kim Jong-un serves as a clear manifestation of the special relations of friendship forged between the leaders of the DPRK and Russia and is the finest gift," according to the Rodong Sinmun.

The DPRK is an abbreviation for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Kim Yo-jong also "courteously conveyed Comrade Kim Jong-un's expression of gratitude toward comrade President Putin to the Russian side."

South Korea's Unification Ministry said Tuesday that the UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea prohibit the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of luxury items, such as luxury automobiles, to North Korea.

"Therefore, providing such item is considered a violation of sanctions on North Korea," a senior official at the Unification Ministry, who wished to remain anonymous, said during a closed-door briefing.

The ban on luxury goods was first introduced in Resolution 1718 in 2006. It was further reaffirmed in subsequent UNSC resolutions on North Korea in 2016 and 2017. UNSC Resolution 2397, adopted in 2017, also introduced a ban on the supply, sale or transfer to North Korea of all transportation vehicles.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking at a news conference following a meeting of the State Council at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2022. (File Pool Photo via AP)

Despite North Korean state media remaining silent on the specific type of car, the ministry believes it is likely to be a luxurious automobile, given the nature of gifts exchanged between the top leaders of Russia and North Korea.

But the ministry said it had no information on the method of delivery for the car.

"We condemn North Korea's shameless demeanor of publicly disclosing its violation of UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea. Russia must recognize its responsibility as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and cease actions that undermine international norms," the official said.

"We are committed to addressing and responding to every action by Russia and North Korea that violates UN Security Council resolutions and sanctions on North Korea in coordination with the international community, including the UN."

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov later confirmed that the car was a Russian-made Aurus, Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported Tuesday.

Putin personally showcased his Aurus Senat limousine, renowned as the most luxurious Russian car, to Kim and extended an invitation for him to sit in the back seat during their in-person summit in September last year in the Amur region of Russia's Far East.

The South Korean government reportedly assessed the car gift as an attempt to mollify North Korea's potential dissatisfaction over what it has received from Russia in exchange for providing weapons.

Seoul notes that North Korea's gains from substantial weapons supplies to Russia remain publicly unclear. Although Russia continues to require weapons from North Korea, the Kim Jong-un regime's apparent desire for assistance with weapons programs might not align with Russian interests.

On that basis, Putin's car gift could be interpreted as a conciliatory gesture.

The government also reportedly interprets Pyongyang's publication of the gift in the Rodong Sinmun as an indication of its intention to convey to its people the strength of its relationship with Russia and the high regard in which Putin holds Kim Jong-un.

Kim Su-gil (left), an alternate member of the political bureau of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party, returns home in Pyongyang on Monday, after a delegation of the ruling party, led by Kim, made a trip to Russia to hold talks with Russian Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, in this photo taken from the website of North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency. (Yonhap)

The Rodong Sinmun on Tuesday reported the trips of senior North Korean officials overseeing information and technology, fisheries, and sports affairs to Russia, underscoring the dynamic exchange between the two countries.

Minister of IT Industry Ju Yong-il left Pyongyang on Monday to participate in the Euro-Asian IT Forum, which was scheduled to take place Tuesday and Wednesday in Moscow.

On Monday, a delegation from the DPRK-Russia Fishery Joint Committee, headed by Vice Minister of Fisheries Son Song-guk, embarked on a journey to Russia to partake in the joint committee meeting focused on fishery cooperation.

Simultaneously, Vice Minister of Physical Culture and Sports O Kwang-hyok also set off for Russia to attend a ceremony of signing a 2024 sports exchange protocol between the two countries.

The Workers' Party of Korea delegation headed by Kim Su-gil, an alternate member of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee and chief secretary of the Pyongyang Municipal Party Committee, also participated in the inaugural international interparty forum, titled "For Freedom of Nations," organized by the ruling United Russia party last week in Moscow.