(3rd LD) N.K. foreign minister arrives in Russia amid deepening military cooperation

SEOUL, North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui arrived in Russia on Monday for an official visit, state media reported, amid deepening military cooperation between the two nations. Choe left Pyongyang on Sunday to visit Russia from Monday through Wednesday at the invitation of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Her delegation arrived in Moscow and was greeted at the airport by officials from Russia's foreign ministry and North Korea's ambassador to Moscow, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a short dispatch. In a separate report, Russia's state-run news agency TASS said Choe and Lavrov are scheduled to hold talks Tuesday, citing a foreign ministry official. Her visit appears to be a reciprocal trip following Lavrov's visit to Pyongyang in October and comes amid suspicions that North Korea has provided weapons to Russia for use in its war with Ukraine in return for Russia's technical assistance for Pyongyang's weapons programs. Pyongyang and Moscow have denied any arms deals so far. L ast week, the White House said Russia recently fired additional North Korean ballistic missiles into Ukraine following earlier such launches on Dec. 30 and Jan. 2. Also drawing attention is the issue of whether Choe and Lavrov will discuss a possible trip by Putin to North Korea, as the Russian leader accepted Kim's invitation to visit the North during their summit at Russia's Vostochny spaceport in September last year. In April 2019, the North's state media said Putin had accepted Kim's proposal to visit Pyongyang during their first summit in Vladivostok. But at that time, the Kremlin did not confirm it, nor did Putin visit the North. At a year-end party meeting, the North's leader vowed to strengthen solidarity with countries standing against the United States. He is seeking to bolster ties with China and Russia vis-a-vis the strengthening of security cooperation among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo. South Korea's unification ministry warned against "illegal" cooperation of the suspected arms trade between Pyongyang and Moscow following the Kim-Putin summit. "North Korea and Russia should be clearly aware that (the international community) is keeping close tabs on Choe's visit to Russia," Koo Byoung-sam, spokesperson at the ministry, told a regular press briefing. Source: Yonhap News Agency