North Korea staged a military parade Thursday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency said, adding it was not immediately known whether North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attended the event.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was expected to observe the parade, the country's Defense Ministry said earlier in the day. It marks the first time for a Russian government representative to join a North Korean military parade under Kim's leadership, according to South Korean officials.
The parade is believed to be held at Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Square, named after the nation's founder and the current leader's grandfather. Li Hongzhong, a member of the Chinese Communist Party's Political Bureau, who is leading the country's delegation, may have also attended it.
Pyongyang last staged a military parade in February to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of its armed forces.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a congratulatory telegram to Kim on Thursday saying that soldiers from the former Soviet Union and North Korea fought in the war together and calling the historical experience a cornerstone of bilateral relations, according to the presidential office.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol told a ceremony marking the armistice anniversary in Busan that Seoul will never forget the sacrifices made by the U.N. forces in the 1950-53 Korean War.
South Korea will not forget its gratitude toward troops of allied nations, "who risked their lives and rushed to us in our time of difficulty," Yoon said, according to Yonhap.
In the war, which began on June 25, 1950, with a North Korean invasion aimed at unification under the Communist regime, U.N. forces led by the United States fought alongside South Korea against the North that was supported by China and the Soviet Union.
On Wednesday, Kim Jong Un held talks with Shoigu and showed him around an arms exhibition held in the capital, the official Korean Central News Agency said.
Photos released Thursday by KCNA showed Kim and Shoigu at the exhibition that featured weaponry including solid-fuel Hwasong-18 and other intercontinental ballistic missiles as well as a new drone. Korean Central Television footage showed the drone shot two missiles.
It is rare for the North Korean leader to host a senior foreign military official at a location where the nation's advanced weapons are on display.
The talks between Kim and Shoigu marked the Asian leader's first contact with a senior foreign official since June 30, 2019, when he met then U.S. President Donald Trump at the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas.
KCNA reported that during the meeting with Shoigu a day ahead of the anniversary, the two sides reached a consensus after exchanging views on matters of mutual concern in the field of national defense and security, and on the regional and international security environment.
Kim expressed his views on the issues of mutual concern in the struggle to "safeguard the sovereignty, development and interests of the two countries from the high-handed and arbitrary practices of the imperialists and to realize international justice and peace," it added.
Kim attended a celebratory performance that started at midnight Wednesday with the Russian delegation and a Chinese group led by Li, who handed a personal letter from Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Kim, the news agency added. Shoigu also delivered a letter from Putin to Kim.
The North Korean leader said his country's people will never forget that Chinese troops "shed blood to bring about the war victory" and affirmed that Pyongyang will "further strengthen the friendship and solidarity with the fraternal Chinese people," KCNA said.
Pyongyang claims the Korean War ended in victory over U.S.-led allied forces. The delegations from Russia and China, which like North Korea are embroiled in tensions with the United States, are the first known foreign groups to be invited to Pyongyang since the country's 2020 COVID-19 border closure.
North Korea has openly backed the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Washington claims Pyongyang has supplied arms for use in the war to Moscow, but the Asian country denies the allegation.