North Korea says Putin could visit at an ‘early date’ amid US tensions

North Korea has said it has agreed to further strategic and tactical cooperation with Russia to establish a “new multi-polarised international order,” as the two countries work to build a united front in the face of their separate, intensifying tensions with the United States.

In describing North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui’s meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow last week, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Putin also reaffirmed his willingness to visit Pyongyang and said that could come at an “early date.”

North Korea has been actively strengthening its ties with Russia, highlighted by leader Kim Jong Un’s September visit to Russia for a summit with Putin. Kim is trying to break out of diplomatic isolation and strengthen his footing as he navigates a deepening nuclear standoff with Washington, Seoul and Tokyo.

North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui arrives to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia on Tuesday

In a separate statement on Sunday, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry condemned the UN Security Council for calling an emergency meeting over the country’s latest ballistic test, which state media described as a new intermediate-range solid-fuel missile tipped with a hypersonic warhead. The ministry said the test-firing on 14 January was among the country’s regular activities to improve its defence capabilities and that it didn’t pose a threat to its neighbours.

South Korea on Thursday urged the Security Council “to break the silence” over North Korea’s escalating missile tests and threats. Russia and China, both permanent members of the council, have blocked US-led efforts to increase sanctions on North Korea over its recent weapons tests, underscoring a divide deepened over Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The alignment between Pyongyang and Moscow has raised international concerns about alleged arms cooperation, in which North Korea provides Russia with munitions to help prolong its fighting in Ukraine, possibly in exchange for badly needed economic aid and military assistance to help upgrade Kim’s forces. Both Pyongyang and Russia have denied accusations by Washington and Seoul about North Korean arms transfers to Russia.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, in comments published by state media, said Choe and the Russian officials in their meetings expressed a “strong will to further strengthen strategic and tactical cooperation in defending the core interests of the two countries and establishing a new multi-polarized international order.”

Russia expressed “deep thanks” to North Korea for its “full support” over its war on Ukraine, the North Korean ministry said. It said Choe and the Russian officials expressed “serious concern” over the United States’ expanding military cooperation with its Asian allies that they blamed for worsening tensions in the region and threatening North Korea’s sovereignty and security interests.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest point in years, after Kim in recent months used Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a distraction to ramp up his weapons tests and military demonstrations. The United States, South Korea and Japan have responded by strengthening their combined military exercises, which Kim portrays as invasion rehearsals, and sharpening their deterrence plans built around nuclear-capable US assets.

In the latest tit-for-tat, North Korea on Friday said it conducted a test of a purported nuclear-capable underwater attack drone in response to a combined naval exercise by the United States, South Korea and Japan last week, as it continued to blame its rivals for tensions in the region.

Choe’s visit to Moscow came as Kim continues to use domestic political events to issue provocative threats of nuclear conflict.

At Pyongyang’s rubber-stamp parliament last week, Kim declared that North Korea is abandoning its long-standing goal of a peaceful unification with war-divided rival South Korea and ordered the rewriting of North Korea’s constitution to cement South Korea as its most hostile foreign adversary. He accused South Korea of acting as “top-class stooges” of the Americans and repeated a threat that he would use his nukes to annihilate the South if provoked.

Analysts say North Korea could be aiming to diminish South Korea’s voice in the regional nuclear standoff and eventually force direct dealings with Washington as it looks to cement its status as a nuclear weapons state.

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