Kim Jong Un met the Russian defence minister and a high-ranking Chinese delegation in Pyongyang ahead of major Korean War anniversary celebrations, state media said Thursday, the leader's first known foreign guests since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Kim had "a friendly talk" with Moscow's Sergei Shoigu, who gave Kim "an autographed letter" from Russian President Vladimir Putin, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.
Ahead of a "grand performance" for the Thursday anniversary, he also met a Chinese delegation led by politburo member Li Hongzhong, who "courteously handed to the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un a personal letter sent by Xi Jinping," KCNA said, referring to the Chinese president.
Pyongyang is marking the 70th anniversary of the signing of the July 27, 1953, Korean War armistice, which ended open hostilities and is celebrated in the country as Victory Day.
Russia, a historic ally of North Korea, is one of a handful of nations with which Pyongyang maintains friendly relations.
"Recollecting with deep emotion the history of deep-rooted DPRK-Russia friendship," Kim and Shoigu discussed "matters of mutual concern in the field of national defence and security and on the regional and international security environment," KCNA said.
Kim and Shoigu also visited a weaponry exhibition where the Russian minister was shown "new-type weapons and equipment," KCNA said in a separate dispatch.
The North Korean leader has been steadfast in his support for Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, including, Washington says, supplying rockets and missiles.
During the visit, he told Shoigu "about the weapons and equipment which were invented and produced" under North Korea's national defence plan and "repeatedly expressed belief that the Russian army and people would achieve big successes", KCNA added.
Beijing is North Korea's most important ally and economic benefactor, their relationship forged in the bloodshed of the Korean War in the 1950s.
Kim told Li that "the Korean people will never forget the fact that the brave soldiers of the Chinese People's Volunteers shed blood to bring about the war victory," KCNA reported.
China and the North "will as ever strive to further strengthen the friendship and solidarity," Kim said, according to the report.
Satellite imagery indicates North Korea has been preparing for a large-scale military parade for the Thursday anniversary.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported there were "clear signs" of preparations for a midnight parade at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang in recent days, citing multiple unnamed government sources.
The inclusion of foreign guests at this year's celebrations is a post-pandemic first and hints at new flexibility towards enforcing border controls.
The Russian and Chinese delegations are Pyongyang's first known foreign visitors since its 2020 pandemic closure.
North Korea has been under a rigid, self-imposed blockade since early 2020 to protect itself from Covid-19, preventing even its own nationals from entering the country.
It only resumed some trade with China last year and allowed new Beijing envoy Wang Yajun to take up his position this year. He is the first known diplomat to cross into North Korea since the border closure in January 2020.
Russia's ambassador to Pyongyang, Alexander Matsegora, is known to have remained in the North Korean capital throughout the pandemic, even as staff numbers at his embassy dwindled and other foreign missions closed their doors.
source: France 24