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North Korea to welcome Russian tourists as it opens borders for first time since COVID-19

The move is being touted as a sign of deepening cooperation between Russia and North Korea. North Korea had shut its borders in 2020 amid the global COVID-19 lockdown, and observers had predicted that the first post-pandemic tourists would come from China.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Pyongyang Published on: January 12, 2024 17:05 IST
North Korea, Russia, tourism, COVID-19 pandemic
Image Source : AP North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Pyongyang: North Korea has opened its border for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic for international tourists and is set to welcome Russian tourists going on a ski trip, underscoring deepening cooperation between the two long-time US foes, according to a report. The move also follows a high-level meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin in September.

North Korea had shut its borders in 2020 amid the global COVID-19 lockdown. Pyongyang's decision to let Russian tourists be the first international tourists to visit the country in three years came as a pleasant surprise as observers predicted that the first post-pandemic tourists would come from China, North Korea's biggest ally.

According to TASS news agency, an unspecified number of tourists from Russia's far eastern region of Primorye will first fly to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, where they will visit monuments such as the “Tower of Juche Idea,” named after the North's guiding philosophy of “juche” or self-reliance.

The tourists will then travel on to the North's Masik Pass on the east coast, where the country's most modern ski resort is located. The trip was reportedly arranged under an agreement reached between Oleg Kozhemyako, governor of the Primorye region, and North Korean authorities.

North Korea-Russia cooperation

North Korea has been slowly easing pandemic-era curbs and opening its international borders as part of its efforts to revive its economy devastated by the lockdown and persistent US sanctions. “For North Korea, tourism is the easiest way to earn foreign currency under the international sanctions regime,” said Koh Yu-hwan, former president of Seoul's Korea Institute for National Unification.

The North Korean leader visited Russia in September last year, after which he called for an exponential increase in the production of nuclear weapons and for his country to play a larger role in a coalition of nations confronting the United States in a “new Cold War". According to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim deepened “comradely fellowship and friendly ties” with Putin during his six-day trip.

Kim's meeting with Putin was being watched closely by Western countries amid concerns that North Korea may provide Russia will millions of artillery shells and rockets based on Soviet design that can provide a major boost in Russia's war against Ukraine. In return, Pyongyang will seek desperately-needed shipments of food and energy along with modern weapons technologies.

Earlier this month, US intelligence officials alleged that Russia has acquired ballistic missiles from North Korea and is now seeking the same weapons from Iran as Moscow struggles to replenish supplies for its war against Ukraine. The White House said one of these missiles was fired into Ukraine on December 30 and landed in an open field in the Zaporizhzhia region.

Russia also launched multiple North Korean ballistic missiles on Tuesday (January 2) as part of an overnight attack, and the US was assessing the impact, said Kirby. The missiles have a range of about 550 miles (885 kilometres). The US believes that North Korea wants Russia to provide it with aircraft, surface-to-air missiles, armored vehicles, ballistic missile production equipment and other advanced technologies.

Separate confrontations with the US

North Korea and Russia are locked in separate confrontations with the United States and its allies — North Korea for its advancing nuclear program and Russia for its war with Ukraine. North Korea has increasingly warned in recent days that the situation on the Korean peninsula is spiralling towards war because of dangerous moves by the US and South Korean militaries.

Kim recently said his military should "thoroughly annihilate" the United States and South Korea if provoked, after he promised to boost national defence, including by launching three more spy satellites and building nuclear weapons in 2024, as part of "overwhelming" war readiness to cope with US-led confrontational moves.

According to the observers, Kim would finally hope to use his boosted nuclear capability to wrest greater outside concessions if there is a resumption of diplomacy. Experts say that Kim is likely to continue to escalate his warlike rhetoric and weapons tests again if former US President Donald Trump wins the presidential elections in November.

The US and South Korean governments have repeatedly warned that any attempt by North Korea to use nuclear weapons would result in the end of the Kim Jong Un government. North Korea has argued that it has been forced to develop nuclear weapons in the face of a possible invasion by the US and South Korea. 

(with inputs from agencies)

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