Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited North Korea on the 7th of October, 2018 to try and jump-start denuclearization talks with North Korean officials. After being snubbed by Kim on his last visit, Pompeo met with the increasingly visible North Korean leader this time around and Kim's arrival at the engagement was quite grand indeed. Video from the meeting shows Pompeo waiting in a foyer when two big ornate doors swing open to the outside and Kim saunters over a red carpet and across the foyer to embrace Pompeo. But it's not what happened in the foreground of this video that's most interesting, it's what was sitting in the background—a big, gleaming Rolls Royce Phantom.
Kim's Pullman Guard Mercedes limousines, based on the 2012 S600, have been fixtures in the 'Dear Leader's' travels around Pyongyang, Panmunjom and most recently, abroad. Kim is known transportation aficionado, having a special interest in aircraft and cars since he was a young boy. This made international headlines when Kim took a peek at Trump's limousine, popularly known as The Beast, during the summit in Singapore last June. Now it appears that despite extreme sanctions—especially on luxury goods—and a rickety economy that is supposedly slowly starving due to lack of energy stocks, Kim was able to get his hands on the most luxurious of luxury cars.
The fact that the car was showcased during Kim's grand arrival to the meeting with Pompeo was no accident. It was a North Korean show of defiance against the entire sanctions regime that the U.S. has championed, and a rolling symbol of its supposed futility. China and Russia have relaxed their enforcement of sanctions against rogue state since the thaw between North and South Korea began last Winter. Since then, Kim has been elevated on the world stage and his country seems to be increasingly viewed—albeit begrudgingly—an accepted nuclear power by some of its neighbors in the region regardless of if they claim otherwise.
The 'Young General' has traveled to China three times since the de-escalation in North-South tensions began, in addition to his trip to Singapore to shake the American President's hand in front of a global audience—no strings attached. In most of those instances, his limousines traveled with him aboard Air Koryo Il-76 ailifters. Now there are some indications that Kim, or a very high-ranking North Korean delegation, could soon travel to nearby Vladivostok, Russia to meet Russian officials. If Kim were to make the trip to Vladivostok—the first of its kind—Vladimir Putin would too. Closer ties between Moscow and Pyongyang have been in the works for months as the Kremlin clearly sees North Korea's profile on the rise and views the country as yet another strategic locale in which to compete with the United States for influence.
In particular, Mutec has had an affiliation with Rolls Royce directly and has been offering the Phantom with extreme VR7 level protection in a package that is virtually indistinguishable from the stock vehicle since roughly 2007.
One would assume that this example has undergone such a transformation. Otherwise, it could be used just for moving Kim around is sprawling compounds in his own country. We'll have to wait and see if it shows up on his next foreign engagement, or even outside the gates of his secured properties, and if there is more than one. The fact that one of his Pullman Guard limousines was used to ferry Pompeo and his team from Pyongyang airport to a government compound points the real possibility that he no longer uses the cars as a primary transport. In the past, North Korea has used very old limousines for second-tier VIP transport purposes, including Mercedes models from the 1980s and 1990s.
If Kim has replaced his Pullman Guard limousines with Rolls Royce Phantoms, it would stick with a recent trend in world leaders upgrading their own cars. China, Russia, and the United States have all unveiled new and totally custom presidential limousines in recent months.
The thing is there aren't that many of these vehicles around and especially if the one Kim has is armored. Roughly 10,000 Phantoms have been built between 2003 and 2017, and that includes many visually identifiable sub-types that this vehicle is not. Surely intelligence agencies are on the hunt to try and figure out how this car made its way into North Korean hands while the country is supposedly under an extreme sanctions regime. In that regard, Kim's Phantom may present analysts with a unique opportunity to trace from who and from where North Korea is getting its high-end contraband imports. Clearly, if they can get an armored Rolls Royce Phantom into Pyongyang they can get just about anything else there too.
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