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Putin gifts petrol head Kim Jong-un a new luxury car for his collection

Present seen as sign of close ties between isolated leaders – and could violate UN sanctions that ban luxury goods export to North Korea

Shweta Sharma
Tuesday 20 February 2024 21:48 GMT
Related Kim Jong-un meets Vladimir Putin for first time

Vladimir Putin has gifted a Russian-made limousine to his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un, the latest signal of deepening relations between two countries that are otherwise increasingly isolated on the global stage.

North Korean state media said the car was hand-delivered by a Russian delegation over the weekend, and on Tuesday the Kremlin confirmed that Mr Putin had sent a full-sized luxury sedan limousine by Aurus, Russia’s first luxury car brand.

Mr Putin’s present to Mr Kim is likely to be in violation of Moscow-backed United Nations Security Council sanctions against Pyongyang, which prohibit the supply of luxury goods including all “transportation vehicles” to the nation.

KCNA reported that the car was received on 18 February by Mr Kim’s sister and close aide, Kim Yo-jong, as well as other senior North Korean officials.

Ms Kim “courteously conveyed Kim Jong-un‘s thanks to Mr Putin to the Russian side, saying that the gift serves as a clear demonstration of the special personal relations between the top leaders of the DPRK (North Korea) and Russia and as the best one”.

Mr Kim, who is said to be an avid automobile enthusiast with a large collection of luxury foreign cars, was pictured inspecting Mr Putin’s presidential Anrus Senat limousine when he travelled to Russia last year on a rare trip outside North Korea.

A commercial version of Putin's Aurus Senat limousine at the Moscow International Motor Show (AFP via Getty Images)

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the decision to present the car was made after Mr Kim lavished praise on Mr Putin’s own Aurus Senat Limousine.

“When the head of the DPRK [North Korea] was at the Vostochny cosmodrome, he looked at this car, Putin showed it to him personally, and like many people, Kim liked this car,” Mr Peskov said when asked about the gift.

“So this decision was made,” Mr Peskov added. “North Korea is our neighbour, our close neighbour, and we intend, and will continue, to develop our relations with all neighbours, including North Korea.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has contributed to closer ties between North Korea and Russia – two increasingly isolated regimes under numerous Western sanctions and locked in separate confrontations with the United States and its allies. Various reports have emerged of Pyongyang supplying artillery, rockets and ballistic missiles to Moscow to sustain its war in Ukraine.

Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin at the Vostochny cosmodrome in September 2023 (AP)

The Kremlin has neither confirmed nor denied its use of North Korea-made weapons in its invasion of Ukraine. North Korea has denied shipping arms to Russia, which would also be a violation of UN sanctions.

Since Mr Kim’s visit to Russia in September, exchanges of delegations between the two countries have become more frequent.

On Tuesday, KCNA separately reported that a delegation of North Korea’s ruling party officials returned from Russia and three delegations, representing information technology, fisheries and sports, departed for Russia.

In January, a high-ranking North Korean delegation travelled to Russia to advance talks on what North Korean media said was a forthcoming visit by Mr Putin to North Korea. It would be his first to the country in the last 20 years.

Mr Kim has expressed his strong support for Russia’s war in Ukraine and said the two nations needed to unite against Western powers. In October last year, Mr Kim wished Mr Putin victory over the “imperialists’ anti-Russia scheme” in a letter to mark the 75th anniversary of their countries’ bilateral relations, state media reported.

Kim Jong-un arriving in Artyom, near Vladivostok in 2023 (AP)

International sanctions that ban the supply of luxury goods to North Korea have not prevented Mr Kim from maintaining a fleet of high-end cars, believed to have been smuggled into his country over the years.

Mr Kim has been seen being driven in a Maybach armoured limousine and also drove himself in it in Russia after it was brought there on board a special train.

In 2018, he was seen travelling in a black Rolls-Royce to meet a US delegation and two armoured Mercedes-Maybach S600 Guard vehicles were delivered to North Korea from the Netherlands, according to the Washington-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies.

It said that more than 800 luxury cars were imported by the country from 2015 to 2017 alone and a majority of them were from Russian companies.

Brought over for an earlier trip in 2019 to Russia, Mr Kim has two limos ready for his use at Vladivostok station, a Maybach S600 Pullman Guard and a Mercedes Maybach S62. He also used a S600 Pullman Guard for his two summits with then-president Donald Trump in Singapore in 2018 and Vietnam in 2019.

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