Putin’s Gift to Kim Jong-Un of Unusual Presidential Limo Is Sign of ‘Budding Bromance’ Between Two Strongmen

Will the North Koreans dare put the Aurus on the street for public view when they may not have the spare parts, experience, and training to make sure the beast is running properly?

Robert Hradil/Getty Images
An Aurus Senat is displayed during the 89th Geneva International Motor Show on March 6, 2019, at Geneva, Switzerland. Robert Hradil/Getty Images

Next time the North Koreans stage a huge parade featuring their latest long-range missiles, all eyes are likely to be on another new model in their inventory.

That would be an eight-ton, armor-plated limousine that Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is gifting North Korea’s strongman leader, Kim Jong-un. It’s an Aurus Senat, which appears to be a knockoff of two of the West’s best-known limos, a Mercedes-Benz and a Rolls-Royce with maybe a touch of a Bentley.

Now Mr. Putin wants Mr. Kim to be the first non-Russian to enjoy the comfort of a car that the Korean leader inspected briefly as Mr. Putin’s guest at the Vostochny cosmodrome by the Amur River in Siberia in September.

Mr. Kim had his own Mercedes-Maybach limo loaded onto the train that carried him for a week around eastern Siberia, riding it for the short distance from the train to his meeting with Mr. Putin. Now the proud Russian leader evidently wants him to know that Russia has a worthy competitor after seeing his guest alighting from the Maybach.

The headline in Autoevolution, which reports on new models everywhere, was: “Kim Jong Un Loved His Ride in the Aurus Senat Limo, So Putin Gave Him One as a Gift.”

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, center right, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shake hands during their meeting in Vladivostok, Russia, Thursday, April 25, 2019. A North Korean train presumably carrying North Korean leader Jong Un has departed for Russia for a possible meeting with Russian President Putin, South Korean media said Monday, Sept. 11, 2023. Citing unidentified South Korean government sources, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that the train likely left the North Korean capital of Pyongyang on Sunday evening and that a Kim-Putin meeting is possible as early as Tuesday. (
Kim Jong-un and President Putin at Vladivostok, Russia, April 25, 2019. Yuri Kadobnov/pool via AP, file

“The gift is more than confirmation of the budding bromance between the two leaders,” the writer, Elena Gorgan, gushes, “it’s confirmation of their agreement and mutual support on a variety of issues, including weapons tech, which North Korea is believed to be giving Russia in its war against Ukraine.” Indeed, she adds, “The Senat gift is also seen as confirmation that Putin is expected to visit North Korea soon.” 

It may be fine for Mr. Putin to count on his own skilled engineers and technicians to make sure his roomy stretch version of the vehicle is a worthy successor to the old Zil limousines that used to ferry Joseph Stalin and other late leaders of the old Soviet empire. Will the North Koreans, though, dare put the Aurus on the street for public view when they may not have the spare parts, experience, and training to make sure the beast is running properly?

Such uncertainty may explain why the response to the gift from Pyongyang was decidedly low key. Mr. Kim did not say a word, leaving it to his younger sister, Yo-jong, best known for her rhetorical attacks on North Korea’s American and South Korean enemies, to issue a formal, and pro forma, message: Thanks, comrade.

Official gratitude, Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency reported, “was conveyed to Pak Jong Chon, secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea and Kim Yo Jong,” identified as vice department director of the ruling party’s central committee.  She “courteously conveyed Kim Jong Un’s thanks to Putin,” the perfunctory three-paragraph dispatch said, calling the gift “a clear demonstration of the special personal relations between the top leaders” of North Korea and Russia.

The North Koreans, of course, did not report the comment of a Department of State spokesman, Matthew Miller, that export of the vehicle to North Korea was no doubt a violation of sanctions against the North. Better yet was his jibe, “I hope Kim got the extended warranty. I’m not sure, if I were buying a luxury car, Russia would be the place I would look.”

So what’s this vehicle really look like and how much power does it pack?

“It’s extra long, extra black, and above all else, it’s in-house from Russia,” an analyst for motor1.com, Roland Hildebrandt, wrote after climbing into the car at the Geneva Motor Show nearly four years ago. “Visually, the car is reminiscent of Rolls-Royce and Bentley,” also “coincidentally similar to Mercedes-Benz.” The car, he added, “exudes confidence in being a product of Russia, and that’s the target market for this vehicle.” 

More specifically, he wrote, the Aurus, both the show-off model for world leaders and a smaller version that ordinary super-rich autocrats can buy for about $300,000, is powered by “an electric motor, using an intelligent all-wheel-drive arrangement to get power onto the pavement.” 

There is, he added, “significant power – 598 horsepower (446 kilowatts) to be specific, which goes through a nine-speed automatic that doesn’t require a torque converter.” The smaller model takes six seconds to reach 62 miles per hour, he reports, while the armor-plated one is capable of “doing  the same sprint in a respectable nine seconds.” 

That should be fast enough for Mr. Kim to elude would be assassins, but don’t count on seeing him waving from the vehicle as he did while under Mr. Putin’s gaze at the Cosmodrome. He has yet to be seen cruising Pyongyang in a limo, and he is said to ride in a military vehicle, accompanied by at least a battalion of troops, on sorties out of Pyongyang to press the button on missile launches.

Not that Mr. Kim doesn’t love cars. “The  Senat will be in fine company in Jong Un’s impressive fleet,” Autoevolution says. “He’s a passionate car collector with a soft spot for Mercedes-Maybachs and other luxury brands, and the Senat is designed as their equal, especially in fully loaded spec. We’re assuming that that’s what Putin sent over to North Korea because this is not the kind of occasion you cheap out.”

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