Russia’s Putin in North Korea to boost partnership with old ally

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met on Wednesday in Pyongyang as they seek to expand their economic and military cooperation and display a united front against Washington.

Upon his nighttime arrival, Putin was greeted by Kim, who shook his hand, hugged him twice, and joined him in a limousine.

After spending the rest of the night at a state guest house, Putin attended an official welcoming ceremony at the city’s main square before beginning his summit talks with Kim, according to Russian media.

Russian leader’s visit comes amid growing concerns about an arms arrangement in which Pyongyang provides Moscow with badly needed munitions to fuel Russia’s war in Ukraine in exchange for economic assistance and technology transfers that would enhance the threat posed by Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile program.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un greet each other at the Pyongyang Sunan International Airport

North Korea is subject to stringent UN Security Council sanctions for its nuclear weapons and missile programs, while Russia faces sanctions from the United States and Western allies due to its aggression in Ukraine.

US and South Korean officials accuse the North of providing Russia with artillery, missiles and other military equipment for use in Ukraine, possibly in return for key military technologies and aid. Both deny accusations about North Korean weapons transfers, which would violate multiple UN Security Council sanctions that Russia previously endorsed.

Along with China, Russia has provided political cover for Kim’s continuing efforts to advance his nuclear arsenal, repeatedly blocking US-led efforts to impose fresh UN sanctions on the North over its weapons tests.

In March, a Russian veto at the United Nations ended monitoring of UN sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear program, prompting Western accusations that Moscow is seeking to avoid scrutiny as it buys weapons from Pyongyang for use in Ukraine. US and South Korean officials have said they are discussing options for a new mechanism for monitoring the North.

Although Kim’s military nuclear program includes intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the US mainland, further advancement may require external technological assistance.

There are indications that Russia might be helping North Korea with technologies for space rockets and military reconnaissance satellites, which Kim views as essential for monitoring South Korea and boosting the threat of his nuclear-capable missiles.

According to a report from South Korea’s Institute for National Security Strategy, North Korea could potentially ramp up labour exports to Russia and engage in illicit activities to gain foreign currency, defying UN sanctions. The report also anticipates discussions on enhancing cooperation in agriculture, fisheries, mining, and boosting Russian tourism to North Korea.

In Washington, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Putin’s visit to North Korea illustrates how Russia tries, “in desperation, to develop and to strengthen relations with countries that can provide it with what it needs to continue the war of aggression that it started against Ukraine.”

“North Korea is providing significant munitions to Russia … and other weapons for use in Ukraine. Iran has been providing weaponry, including drones, that have been used against civilians and civilian infrastructure,” Blinken told reporters following a meeting with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest point in years, with the pace of both Kim’s weapons tests and combined military exercises involving the United States, South Korea and Japan intensifying in a tit-for-tat cycle.

The Koreas also have engaged in Cold War-style psychological warfare that involved North Korea dropping tons of trash on the South with balloons, and the South broadcasting anti-North Korean propaganda with its loudspeakers.

Putin is being accompanied by several top officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Denis Mantrurov, Defense Minister Andrei Belousov and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, according to his foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov. He said a number of documents will be signed during the visit, possibly including an agreement on a comprehensive strategic partnership.

North Korean state media described the meeting between the leaders as a historic event that demonstrates the “invincibility and durability” of the two nations’ friendship and unity.

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