Elite North Korean unit heads to Russia for first military exchange after Putin-Kim summit

North Korea has sent an elite army training delegation to Russia, heightening Western concerns about deepening military cooperation between the Asian neighbours in the backdrop of the Ukraine war.

This is the first announced military exchange between the two nations since Russian president Vladimir Putin visited Pyongyang last month and signed a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Kim Jong-un.

The People’s Army of North Korea military education delegation left for Russia on Monday, the Korean Central News Agency said. It is led by Kim Kum-chol, president of Kim Il-sung Military University.

The purpose and the duration of the visit have not been revealed.

The university, named after North Korea’s first leader, is a training institute for military officers, Yonhap reported. Kim Jong-un is believed to have taken courses from the school after returning from Switzerland.

The strategic partnership signed by Mr Putin and Mr Kim includes a mutual defence pact, binding the two countries to provide assistance if one is attacked.

The agreement has raised the hackles of South Korea and its chief ally, the US, who fear it could have major military implications.

The US and South Korea have accused the North of supplying artillery, missiles and other weapons to Russia for use in its war in Ukraine in return for advanced military technologies and economic aid. Both North Korea and Russia have denied such claims.

Any military exchange with North Korea will be in violation of UN sanctions that bar member nations from providing military support to Pyongyang.

In a recent interview to Reuters, South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol, who is attending a Nato summit this week, urged Russia to not provide any military assistance to North Korea.

He said Russian military cooperation with North Korea would be a “distinct threat and grave challenge” to the security of Europe and the North Korean peninsula.

He also said he would discuss the matter at the Nato summit and claimed that it “depends entirely” on Russia where it wanted to take future ties with Seoul.