The supreme leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, embarked on a journey to Russia on Tuesday for a pivotal meeting with President Vladimir Putin, primarily revolving around Russia’s pursuit of ammunition to replenish its exhausted reserves, a consequence of its ongoing war in Ukraine.
This pivotal meeting intensifies the bonds between the two isolated leaders, engrossed in individual disputes with the U.S. North Korea’s potential delivery of ammunition may be compensated by extensive dispatches of food and energy along with knowledge transfers concerning advanced weaponry technologies.
This rendezvous between Putin and Kim has historical significance in that it marks Kim’s first personal interaction with foreign leadership since North Korea deliberately sealed its borders back in January 2020. The meeting is a reiteration of their personal encounter in April 2019, which followed two months after Kim’s intense nuclear dialogue with the then U.S. President Donald Trump ended unsuccessfully.
The journey of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, in the month of July saw him proposing a request to Kim for further ammunition support to Russia – an interaction sourced out by US officials. Shoigu emphasized Moscow’s intent to consider conducting military exercises with Pyongyang for the first time.
The extent of Kim and Putin’s potential military cooperation is unpredictable, and any indication of strengthening ties raises concern amongst rivals such as the U.S. and South Korea. Russia’s desire to stifle a Ukrainian counteroffensive to extend the war aligns with North Korea’s steady increase in missile testing to resist U.S. policy to fortify its military ties with South Korea and Japan.
Examining Kim’s journey to Russia becomes crucial in understanding what Russia anticipates from North Korea. U.S. officials since last year have harbored suspicions about North Korea providing an array of artillery shells, brackets, and other ammunition to Russia; much of these resources believed to be replica Soviet-era ammunition.
There exist strong doubts as to North Korea’s ability to speedily deliver substantial ammunition to Russia, despite its vast munitions stockpile, due to the limited capacity of the miniscule land link between the countries.
In exchange, Kim is, however, seeking immediate aid, prestige, and advanced military technology. These needs align perfectly between the two leaders, as the ongoing pandemic-induced border closure has resulted in severe economic constraints for North Korea. For Kim, establishing expansive relations with Moscow serves as a beacon that his nation is overcoming years of isolation\
Highlighting the potential for increasing relations with Russia, Kim is also likely seeking advanced technologies for his plans of creating enhanced weapons systems such as long-range missiles, nuclear-powered submarines, hypersonic ballistic weapons, and spy satellites.
It remains undisclosed whether Russia would provide North Korea with these high-tech weapons-related technologies. Historically, Russia has ensured the strict securing of its vital weapons technologies from even its major associates, including China.
As Russia and North Korea contemplate the potential for military exercise collaborations, it needs to be emphasised that North Korea has maintained its stance of not partnering with foreign militaries, closely adhering to its official stand of “juche,” or “self-reliance”.
Kim’s diplomacy and its ramifications remain unpredictable at the moment, but it is evident that both North Korea and Russia need to present a united front of increased cooperation and defiance towards the United States.