Russia will achieve “a great victory” over its enemies, he has told Kim Jong-un to President Vladimir Putin on this historic trip by the North Korean leader to Russia, the first abroad since 2019, when he also met with the Russian president after the failure of nuclear disarmament negotiations with the then US president, Donald Trump.
In his homeland, Kim’s trip to Russia has been celebrated with the launch of two ballistic missiles that hit the sea east of the Korean peninsula, one of the places with the most tension on the planet and where, with this summit held in Siberia, The Kremlin regains part of the weight it had decades ago in North Korean politics.
Because the importance of the meeting between Kim and Putin at the Vostochny cosmodrome, in the Siberian Amur region, does not fall on the millions of artillery shells122 and 152 mm, which Russia could receive to be fired in Ukraine and which, according to the United States, would be the objective of this trip.
Nor in the technological assistance, including the manufacture of military satellites, that the Russian Aerospace Forces can provide to North Korea and that could strengthen a nuclear program which is already capable of reaching the American west coast with its missiles or devastating the main cities of South Korea and Japan, enemies of Pyongyang and allies of Washington.
North Korea comes out of its shell thanks to Russia
The key to this visit by Kim, the first in four years to Russia and which takes place at a “special moment”, as the Asian leader has said, is that The Kremlin regains a leading role in North Korea which they see with great concern in the Pentagon.
The key to the visit is that the Kremlin regains prominence in North Korea
At the same time, the North Korean regime gains visibility, acquires a voice in the war crisis that is shaking Europe and abandons a decades-long geopolitical isolation with the help of Russia, heir to that Soviet Union that made the birth of North Korea possible in 1948 and that, together with China, supported Pyongyang in the inter-Korean war (1950-1953).
This Tuesday Putin reminded Kim: “the Soviet Union was the first to recognize the newly proclaimed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” And now 75 years have passed since that recognition, Moscow returns to the Korean peninsula thanks to its invasion of Ukraine.
Kim supports Russian “crusade” against the West
“Now, Russia is engaged in a sacred struggle to protect the sovereignty and security of its state, while fight hegemonic forces who oppose him,” Kim said in reference to the support of the United States and Europe for the Ukrainian cause.
And he did not want to leave any doubt about North Korea’s position in the new international theater marked by that war: “we have always supported and continue to support all of President Putin’s decisions.”
Before Kim’s arrival on an armored train to Russian territory and then heading north to the Vostochny cosmodrome, Pyongyang state media had indicated that this visit to Russia had a “strategic importance”. Kim Jong-un himself has described the new relationship with Moscow as an “absolute priority.”
This was Kim Jong-un’s tenth trip since he took power in 2011. Three of those trips led him to meet Trump in the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas, in Singapore and in Hanoi. The last trip, before the Covid pandemic, was the one he made to see Putin in Vladivostok in 2019.
Kim Jong-un has chosen Russia instead of China as the first country to visit after the long confinement that closed North Korea tightly due to the pandemic. The election is not a disdain for Beijing, but a clear message to the United States, an enemy of Russia in Ukraine and North Korea in Asia.
North Korea’s commitment to Moscow in the fight against kyiv is not new. North Korea was the only country, apart from Russia itself and Syria, that at the time recognized the independence of the pro-Russian separatist Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.
Although North Korea cannot, due to the sanctions that weigh on it and the UN rulings (supported by Russia at the time) export weapons, the situation of chaos derived from the war in Ukraine offers Moscow and Pyongyang the opportunity to evade any compliance with international standards.
North Korean Soviet ammunition for Russian guns
The American press has published these days, citing officials from their country, that Russia wants to obtain artillery ammunition from North Korea to nourish the Russian cannons deployed in the defensive lines protecting the occupied territories in Ukraine.
North Korea may have tens of millions of Soviet-type artillery grenades in its arsenals, which, despite their age, could change many things on the Ukrainian battlefield.
Russia would also look for anti-tank rockets, which would be very useful in case the current counteroffensive launched by Ukraine broke those three defense lines laid by the Russian army and advanced towards the coast of the Sea of Azov.
The first consequence of the arrival of North Korean ammunition to Ukraine, to equip the Russian army, would be that it could further slow down the counteroffensive of Kiev’s armed forces and even give Russia an offensive advantage.
Secondly, this united ammunition, which is being manufactured against the clock in factories throughout Russia, would allow Moscow to prolong the war at will, in order to gain advantages at a possible negotiating table.
The arrival of North Korean ammunition would force Ukraine’s allies to increase their supplies to kyiv
The arrival of much North Korean ammunition would also force Ukraine’s European allies to exponentially increase their own supply to the kyiv armywith the consequent shortage of national arsenals and greater economic wear and tear on the EU in its support for its Ukrainian partners.
Last July, the Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu visited North Korea. That trip then aroused Western suspicions about the possible acquisition of North Korean ammunition by Russia in exchange for food and military technology, although both Moscow and Pyongyang denied it.
It was then said that Russia had never been in favor of sharing its military technological secrets with anyone. But circumstances change. Now they need more committed allies who go beyond purchasing their hydrocarbons at low prices, rejecting Western sanctions or supporting Moscow in the UN, the G20 and other international forums.
Advanced technologies for the North Korean nuclear program
Contrary to Belarus, whose value for Russia is more geostrategic than military, North Korea does have material means that could help Moscow in the war. And Russia can supply the impoverished communist dictatorship with food, fuel and the aforementioned advanced technology, specifically that aimed at the manufacture of satellites and nuclear-powered submarines.
US intelligence has even spoken of Russia being able to provide North Korea with the technology needed to make tactical nuclear bombsfor use in a conventional war theater and with a lower destruction power and therefore susceptible to being used in battles.
Both satellites and such submarines would serve to reinforce the nuclear shield that North Korea began to forge in 2006, when it carried out the first of its six military atomic tests. The pandemic stopped this North Korean nuclear race, but it is expected that at any time Pyongyang could carry out its seventh nuclear test.
Another technological area in which Russia could help North Korea would be adaptation of nuclear warheads to missiles. Although North Korean ballistic missile tests have been successful, it is not so clear that much progress has been made in coupling these atomic warheads to rockets and there the Russians could help a lot.
Russia’s advantages over China
Until now, China had been North Korea’s great ally, its main intermediary and protector when things had gotten heated with South Korea, Japan and the United States. It has also been its main food supplier, after agreements with Seoul and Tokyo to supply rice to Pyongyang in exchange for peace collapsed.
But The alliance with China involves a high dose of monitoring of all North Korean steps and their subordination to the interests of Beijing, pleased with an attack dog like the North Korean regime, with such deterrent effects in Northeast Asia.
With Russia the relationship is one of equality and allows North Korea to snoop outside its burrow with autonomy from what the Chinese comrades are going to say. That is the relationship that Putin wanted to build with Pyongyang when he came to power in Russia in 2000.
The crisis of the 9/11 jihadist attacks in 2001 broke this entire strategy that the Kremlin now wants to revive. And who can stop Moscow from bartering with a country that has remained almost isolated from the world since 1953?