Russia’s war in Ukraine is a supporter of Kim Jung Un

The Russia–South Korea Connection After the Crimes of March 19: Putin’s High-level Foreign Policy aide meets with South Korea

The upcoming meeting is a sign of the deeper partnership between the two countries after Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Putin described the two countries as fighting a similar battle against the US and its allies in a letter published in North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper before his visit.

North Korea has consistently supported Russia from the early days of the war in Ukraine, voting against the United Nations resolution condemning Russia’s invasion and joining Russia in recognizing Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states.

South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik said in a recent interview that North Korea could have shipped as many as 5 million shells and dozens of ballistic missiles to Russia.

Russia is paying for military supplies with fuel and food, which is not something that has been known for being altruistic. Kim is interested in Russia’s space and missile technologies. In his all-out embrace of his new “comrade” (as Putin now calls Kim), Putin may well oblige.

He pledged the two countries will “develop alternative trade and mutual settlement mechanisms not controlled by the West” and “build an equal and indivisible security architecture in Eurasia” while increasing people-to-people exchanges.

The leaders might sign a treaty that will replace previous treaties, said Putin’s foreign policy aide.

There were no signs that Russia was about to become a close friend of North Korea. That February, when COVID-19 restrictions prompted an evacuation of the Russian Embassy in Pyongyang, Russian diplomats were seen pushing a rail cart in a desperate dash for the border. Kim Jong Un’s affront was humiliating, but it was quickly forgiven. Putin had bigger fish to fry.

Jenny Town is the Director of the Korea Program at the Stimson Center, a foreign affairs think tank in Washington, D.C., and she says that the two countries would be hesitant to announce a higher level of military cooperation.

Many of North Korean’s military activities are under sanctions but also they stress self reliance and do not dependence on other countries.

“Russia is willing to be bold, is trying to upend the system,” she says, “whereas China is still trying to be part of that system and trying to have some governance role in that system.”

China held high-level talks with South Korea just hours before Putin was expected to arrive in North Korea. The leaders of China, Japan and South Korea met last month for the first time in four years.

“China and Russians seem to have different views on North Korea’s denuclearization,” says Town.

Town says bringing North Korea back to denuclearization negotiations will be hard for the US and its allies.

Pyongyang vs. Moscow: From the Kremlin to the Cold War: a Conversation with Sergey Radensky

The Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs has a distinguished professor named Sergey Radensky. He is based at SAIS-Europe, in Bologna, Italy. His book, To Run the World: The Kremlin’s Cold War bid for Global Power, was published by Cambridge University Press.

Kim Jong Un is playing the host. He became an equal partner for the first time in the history of relations between Moscow and Pyongyang. He no longer feels the need to beg the Russians. Putin is there to help with his wishes and he also has a helping hand.

It did not go well. The North Korean invasion of the South or, as Putin now conveniently calls it, Pyongyang’s “patriotic war of liberation,” triggered U.S. involvement and ultimately China’s intervention, too. It was the Chinese that managed to push the advancing U.S. and United Nations troops back to the 38th parallel. The two nations are technically at war despite a cease-fire in 1953.

Kim had a purge of the Workers’ Party of Korea in the mid-sixties in order to target his opponents, who he suspected of being pro- Chinese and pro-Russian. Kim embraced a form of self-reliantness called juche, which is a form of purge. It was never actual self-reliance, of course, certainly not in economic terms. China and the USSR were still the two main sponsors of the North Koreans.

The Soviets eyed their sometimes-ally with frustration and annoyance, worried as they were that Kim’s militant outbursts (such as the North Korean capture of USS Pueblo in 1968 and the shootdown of the American reconnaissance plane EC-121 in 1969) would implicate the Soviet Union. When the relationship began to fracture in the late 1980s, only the hard-line Stalinists shed any tears. The rest of Russia looked to South Korea.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 changed the Kremlin’s game in Korea. South Korea joined U.S.-led sanctions against Russia, causing a plunge in bilateral trade. In July of 2023, the President of South Korea visited Kyiv, in a show of support for Zelenskyy.

A lot has changed since Foreign Minister Kim Yong Nam accused Shevardnadze of discarding North Korea like a pair of “worn-out shoes,” more than three decades ago. Putin took out the shoes from the garbage bin and put them back on. He likes the look.

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