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NORTH KOREA – An unusual sighting of a Russian military jet in North Korea is stoking concern that Kim Jong Un is selling Vladimir Putin weapons as ties strengthen between the sanctioned states.

Tracking data from FlightRadar24 shows the Russian Air Force Ilyushin IL-62M flying direct from Moscow to Pyongyang on July 31 and returning on Aug 2.

Satellite imagery showed the aircraft at Pyongyang’s international airport for about 36 hours, according to NK News, a Seoul-based provider of news on North Korea that also tracks flight activity in the isolated country.

The flight was the first by this type of Russian military VIP plane to North Korea since mid-2019, when Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin traveled to Pyongyang, NK News said.

Pyongyang closed its borders in early 2020 due to the pandemic, choking its economy.

Neither Russia nor North Korea have reported on the plane, and it is unclear who was aboard. Russia’s Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment on the aircraft.

The journey by the Russian Air Force jet came just days after Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu travelled to Pyongyang on a similar jet to attend a military parade hosted by Mr Kim, who also gave him a tour of a weapons exhibit.

It “appears related to following up on Shoigu’s delegation visit and possibly agreements made with Kim,” NK News said, adding that analysts “speculated that the two could have made weapons deals.”

North Korea has been trying to revive its economy, largely by resuming trade with China and evading international sanctions.

Russia recently restarted oil shipments to North Korea for the first time since 2020, the United Nations has said, following the earlier resumption of grain exports.

It is impossible to know what North Korea is sending in return but both the US government and independent analysts suggested munitions from the stockpiles North Korea has built up amid tensions with Seoul.

Just as Mr Shoigu wrapped up his trip to Pyongyang, the US reiterated its concern that Russia was seeking to restock ammunition reserves depleted by its war in Ukraine.

“We’ve seen in the past Russia looking to try to obtain munitions from countries like North Korea,” Pentagon press secretary brigadier-general Pat Ryder said in a briefing on Aug 1.

“It highlights the dire straits that Russia finds itself in, when it comes to resupplying and refreshing its munitions capabilities.” Rare Russian VIP jet in North Korea stokes concern on arms deals

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