Putin’s Visit to North Korea Marks a New Era in Bilateral Relations

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin embraced North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un on arrival. (Reuters:  Kremlin.ru/Handout)

In a significant diplomatic move, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his appreciation for North Korea’s support during a rare visit to meet leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang. This visit underscores the evolving relationship between the two nations amid global tensions.

“Relations between our countries are entering a new era of blossoming, which cannot be compared even with the period of Korean-Soviet relations of the last century,” stated Kim Jong Un, according to Russian news agencies. He added that Putin’s visit would further “strengthen” their countries’ friendship.

During their meeting, Putin acknowledged North Korea’s support, particularly regarding the conflict in Ukraine. “We very much appreciate your systematic and permanent support of Russian policy, including on the Ukrainian issue,” Putin was quoted as saying. Following a ceremony in Pyongyang’s main square, Putin heralded bilateral cooperation “based on the principles of equality and mutual respect of interests.”

This visit marks Putin’s first to North Korea in 24 years and comes at a time when the West is anxious about the close ties between Russia and North Korea, suspecting that Russia has been using North Korean weaponry in the Ukraine conflict. The Kremlin confirmed plans to sign a “strategic partnership” treaty with North Korea but provided no further details.

Putin also extended an invitation to Kim Jong Un to visit Moscow. North Korea’s escalating threats towards South Korea and its missile trades with Russia have heightened international concerns. Putin issued a presidential order to sign a “comprehensive strategic partnership treaty” with North Korea, focusing on security issues, according to his foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov.

The historical context of the relationship was highlighted by Putin, noting that the Soviet Union was the first to recognize the DPRK, founded by Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, before the 1950 Korean War.

The US has expressed significant concerns about the deepening relationship between Russia and North Korea. Accusations of North Korea supplying Russia with ballistic missiles and munitions for use in Ukraine have been made by the US and South Korea. The White House and the US State Department have indicated their apprehension about this alliance.

Despite Moscow and Pyongyang denying arms transfers, they have committed to enhancing military ties, potentially including joint drills. Russia’s increased ammunition production this year highlights its strategic moves to counter Western influence. In March, Russia vetoed the renewal of a UN panel monitoring sanctions against North Korea.

Putin’s visit includes high-level discussions, a gala concert, state reception, document signings, and a media statement. Accompanying Putin are key Russian officials, including Defence Minister Andrei Belousov and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Satellite imagery suggests North Korea is preparing for a possible military parade in Pyongyang.

Victor Cha, a former US national security official, described the summit as a significant threat to US national security since the Korean War. He urged Washington to collaborate with Europe and other partners to increase pressure on Pyongyang and launch a human rights campaign to influence North Korea.

North Korea has faced UN sanctions since 2006 due to its ballistic missile and nuclear programs. However, the Security Council remains divided on further actions, with Russia and China opposing additional sanctions and criticizing US-South Korea military drills.

Following his visit to North Korea, Putin is scheduled to visit Vietnam on Wednesday and Thursday, furthering Russia’s strategic engagements in Asia.