(Bloomberg) -- North Korea’s cult of personality entered a new phase by elevating the portrait of Kim Jong Un next to that of his grandfather and father, showing him in a similar status as its two former leaders regarded as demigods at home.

Photos released by the official media Wednesday showed Kim speaking to officials at a classroom of the new Central Cadres Training School under the portraits of himself, state founder Kim Il Sung and his father Kim Jong Il. The school will serve as the “highest institute” for training cadres of the ruling Workers’ Party, the Korean Central News Agency said.

“It marks the first time the North Korean official media has shown portraits of the three leaders hung together,” South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which manages relations with Pyongyang, said in a statement. It was not immediately clear if the three portraits were being displayed side by side in other places, such as in homes nationwide. 

“Kim Jong Un’s portrait hung alongside those of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il is a clear message to the wider domestic public that he is now on the same level as the two late leaders,” said Rachel Minyoung Lee, a senior fellow with the 38 North Program at the Stimson Center in the US.

Portraits of what state propaganda dubs “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung and “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il are ubiquitous in the country appearing in apartments, subway cars, offices and almost every major facility. They are seen as treasures to be protected at all costs, prompting occasional reports — albeit unsubstantiated — of reprisals for inappropriate care like that from about four years ago of a mother facing punishment for saving her children from a fire instead of the portraits.

“Hanging up Kim Jong Un’s portrait next to those of the two late leaders is the next step up in propaganda given the symbolic nature of leadership portraits in North Korea and how strongly Kim Il Sung’s and Kim Jong Il’s portraits are imprinted on the people’s minds,” said Lee, who worked as an analyst for the CIA’s Open Source Enterprise for almost two decades.

Kim Jong Un has been in power for about a dozen years but has not set up any festivities to celebrate his birthday, let alone publish it. He meanwhile appears to be readjusting some of the celebrations for his predecessors.  

Last month, China-based Koryo Tours, one of the major travel agencies for North Korea, said on its website it was informed by its North Korean partners that Pyongyang was phasing out the term “Day of the Sun,” to mark the birth of Kim Il Sung, one of the biggest holidays in North Korea. 

Read more: North Korea Propaganda Boss Who Shaped Image of Leaders Dies

Also spotted at the new training school were rare portraits of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, stoking concerns over the importance of growing military cooperation with Russia.

North Korea relied on Marxism and Leninism as guiding ideologies early in Kim Il Sung’s regime but has been phasing them out. Pyongyang purged references to communism in its constitution about 15 years ago, while promoting its “unique style” of socialism centered on Kim Il Sung’s principle of self-reliance known as juche and Kim Jong Il’s military-first ideal known as songun.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space and Missile Defense John Hill told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that North Korea is providing missiles to Russia for use in its war on Ukraine, likely in return for technology assistance “to expand the threats” to the US and others. 

The value of the munitions suspected of being sent by North Korea to Russia is likely several billion dollars and the aid from Moscow could represent the biggest boost to North Korea’s economy since Kim took power. Moscow and Pyongyang have denied the arms transfers accusations.

(Updates with statement from Unification Ministry in third paragraph.)

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