The recent reports suggesting that Kim Jong Un may soon embark on a trip to Russia have brought attention to the traditional mode of transportation utilized by North Korean leaders: opulent, heavily armored trains that have become emblematic of the regime’s profound seclusion.
These trains have long been an integral part of the dynasty’s history and are seen as symbolic representations of its isolation from the rest of the world. If the trip materializes, it would mark Kim’s first foreign travel since the onset of the pandemic.
The purpose of this visit is believed to be a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as indicated by a U.S. official.
Speculations suggest that the potential agenda may include discussions on North Korean arms sales, which could serve as a means for Russia to replenish its reserves depleted by its military involvement in Ukraine.
According to U.S. reports, the meeting between the two leaders is likely to take place in the eastern city of Vladivostok, where they previously convened in April 2019, with Kim arriving in his distinctive green-and-yellow train.
It is worth noting that Putin is expected to be present in Vladivostok for the annual Eastern Economic Forum, scheduled to take place from Sunday to Wednesday.
The current geopolitical climate is characterized by a complex web of relationships between nations, each vying for power and influence in the international arena.
Against this backdrop, recent reports have emerged suggesting that the interests of certain world leaders are beginning to align in the face of their deepening, separate confrontations with the United States.
This development is significant, as it suggests a potential shift in the balance of power and could have far-reaching implications for global affairs.
It is important to note, however, that the situation remains fluid and subject to change, as the interests and priorities of these leaders are constantly evolving in response to a range of internal and external factors.
Nonetheless, the emergence of this trend is a clear indication of the shifting dynamics of the global landscape, and is likely to be closely watched by analysts and policymakers in the months and years to come.
The question of whether Kim could undertake the arduous 20-hour journey by rail once more has become a subject of great interest and scrutiny in the media.
Additionally, the reportedly opulent train in which he travels stands in stark contrast to the harsh reality of grinding poverty that characterizes the everyday lives of the majority of North Koreans.
This stark dichotomy has captured the attention of both domestic and international observers, who are intrigued by the stark juxtaposition between the lavishness of Kim’s mode of transportation and the impoverished conditions experienced by many of his countrymen.
As the media continues to delve into this topic, it raises important questions about the priorities and values of the North Korean leadership, as well as the stark inequality that exists within the country.
Kim Jong Il, the father of Kim Jong Un and a well-known individual who had a fear of flying, was not known for his extensive travels abroad.
Throughout his 17-year rule, he only made approximately twelve trips outside of North Korea, with the majority being to China.
Interestingly, all of these trips were undertaken by train, showcasing his aversion to air travel. It was during one of these train journeys in 2011 that North Korea’s state media reported Kim Jong Il’s sudden demise due to a heart attack.
Shedding light on the opulence and extravagance of these trips, an account from 2002 by Konstantin Pulikovsky, a Russian official who accompanied Kim Jong Il on a three-week visit to Moscow, revealed fascinating details.
The train that transported Kim Jong Il and his entourage was said to be laden with cases of expensive French wine, and passengers were treated to sumptuous meals featuring delicacies such as fresh lobster and succulent pork barbeque.
This account provides a glimpse into the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by the North Korean leader during his rare excursions abroad.
The train’s most notable and significant attribute, which cannot be understated, is its unparalleled emphasis on security.
South Korean media outlets have reported that North Korea possesses a total of 90 specialized carriages and operates three trains simultaneously whenever their leader embarks on a journey.
These three trains consist of an advance train responsible for meticulously inspecting the rails, the train housing the leader and his immediate entourage, and a third train designated for accommodating everyone else.
These carriages are equipped with cutting-edge communication devices and state-of-the-art flat-screen televisions, enabling the leader to issue commands and receive vital briefings.
The symbolic value of these trains is exemplified by the existence of a life-sized replica of one of the carriages, which is permanently on display at a mausoleum situated on the outskirts of Pyongyang.
This mausoleum serves as the final resting place for the embalmed bodies of Kim Jong Il, the former leader, and his esteemed father, Kim Il Sung, the founding father of the state.
Kim Jong Un, the current leader of North Korea, who is 39 years old, has utilized his family’s fortified train for numerous high-profile meetings with world leaders such as Putin, the President of Russia, Xi Jinping, the President of China, and the then-U.S.
President, Donald Trump, during the years 2018 and 2019. However, it should be noted that Kim Jong Un occasionally opts for air travel, a practice that distinguishes him from his father.
Having received education in Switzerland for several years, it is believed that Kim Jong Un became accustomed to air travel during his teenage years.
This flexibility in transportation methods showcases the leader’s adaptability and willingness to embrace modern modes of transportation, while still maintaining a deep-rooted connection to the historical significance and symbolism embodied by the family’s cherished armored train.
In a significant diplomatic move, when Kim Jong-un embarked on his journey to the city of Dalian in northeastern China in 2018 to meet with President Xi Jinping, it marked a historic occasion for North Korea.
This was the first time a North Korean leader had publicly traveled abroad by air since Kim Il Sung’s flight to the Soviet Union back in 1986.
The aircraft used by Kim Jong-un for his official travel is a modified version of the Soviet-made IL-62, known as “Chammae-1,” named after the goshawk, which happens to be North Korea’s national bird.
According to South Korean media, this plane has a capacity of approximately 200 individuals and boasts a maximum range of about 9,200 kilometers (or 5,700 miles), although it has never been reported to have flown such a distance.
On the other hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin, following his controversial decision to invade Ukraine in early 2022, has opted to avoid air travel altogether.
Instead, he now exclusively utilizes a specially designed armored train for his journeys, as revealed by Gleb Karakulov, a defector from Putin’s secretive elite security service.
This change in transportation method reflects the heightened security concerns surrounding Putin’s movements.
Furthermore, Kim Jong-un’s previous meeting with Putin necessitated a day-long trip that commenced in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.
The journey then proceeded along the country’s aged railway system, tracing the eastern coast, before eventually crossing a river that serves as the border between North Korea and Russia. This arduous and time-consuming route highlights the logistical challenges faced by high-level diplomatic visits in the region.
There is a degree of skepticism among analysts regarding the likelihood of another meeting taking place on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum.
This skepticism stems from the fact that Kim Jong-un, as well as his predecessors, have historically shown a preference for stand-alone summitry when undertaking rare trips abroad.
The notion of a separate meeting, detached from a larger economic forum, has been the modus operandi for these leaders. This approach allows for a more focused and dedicated platform to address specific issues of importance.
However, it is important to note that while this has been the trend in the past, it does not necessarily preclude the possibility of a meeting occurring on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum.
The ultimate decision will depend on various factors, including the specific objectives and priorities of the North Korean leadership, as well as the geopolitical context in which such a meeting would take place.
Over the course of two years, from 2018 to 2019, the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, traveled to China on four separate occasions to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
These meetings were significant in that they demonstrated the close relationship between the two countries, and provided an opportunity for Kim to discuss important issues with his Chinese counterpart. Interestingly, two of these trips were made by train, while the other two were made on Kim’s personal jet.
It is worth noting that in June of 2018, Kim borrowed a Chinese plane to travel to Singapore to meet with US President Donald Trump, reportedly due to safety concerns regarding his own aircraft.
Additionally, for a meeting with Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam, Kim opted to take his train on a two-and-a-half day journey, further highlighting his preference for this mode of transportation.
Overall, Kim’s travels to China and beyond demonstrate the importance he places on building relationships with other world leaders, and his willingness to go to great lengths to do so.
Ever since the implementation of stringent measures aimed at safeguarding his country from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kim, the esteemed leader of his nation, has found himself in a rather unprecedented situation.
The decision to close the borders of his beloved land in the early months of 2020, while undoubtedly necessary, has inadvertently resulted in a significant consequence – a lack of personal encounters and interactions with foreign leaders.
This unforeseen circumstance has undoubtedly had a profound impact on Kim’s diplomatic engagements, as the absence of face-to-face meetings has posed unique challenges and limitations to his ability to foster international relations and engage in meaningful dialogue with other prominent figures on the global stage.
The absence of these encounters has created a void in his diplomatic repertoire, leaving Kim to rely solely on virtual communication and remote engagements to navigate the complex web of international politics.
As a result, the absence of personal interactions with foreign leaders has not only altered the dynamics of Kim’s diplomatic engagements but has also presented him with an opportunity to explore alternative means of conducting international relations in an increasingly interconnected world.
According to Yang Moo-jin, the president of the University of North Korean Studies in South Korea, Kim’s potential second visit to Russia holds significant implications for the future of summit-driven diplomacy.
This visit could potentially mark the beginning of a renewed effort to engage in diplomatic discussions and negotiations.
Additionally, it is speculated that Kim’s trip to Russia may be followed by a subsequent visit to China, where he would meet with President Xi Jinping.
Such a meeting would undoubtedly carry substantial weight and could potentially serve as a crucial step towards furthering diplomatic relations between North Korea and China.
As tensions continue to mount on the global stage, the resumption of summit-driven diplomacy could offer a glimmer of hope for fostering peaceful dialogue and resolving longstanding conflicts.