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Putin to visit North Korea on June 18 for talks with Kim Jong Un as expanded military ties worry West

Military and economic ties between Russia and North Korea have increased significantly after Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in 2022. North Korea is believed to have supplied Russia with artillery munitions and ballistic missiles in exchange for sophisticated weapon systems and aid.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Seoul Published on: June 17, 2024 18:23 IST
Russia President Vladimir Putin with North Korea's Kim Jong Un
Image Source : REUTERS Russia's President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Russia last year.

Seoul: Russian President Vladimir Putin's upcoming visit to North Korea now has a date - July 18 (Tuesday) - as he is expected to hold talks on expanding military cooperation and another possible weapons deal that has long worried Western countries. This would be Putin's first visit to North Korea in 24 years, as both countries have increased military and economic cooperation in the face of separate confrontations with the United States.

Putin will arrive in Pyongyang for a two-day visit and will likely meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for talks focused on expanding military cooperation. North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said Putin will pay a state visit on Tuesday and Wednesday at Kim's invitation, and Russia also confirmed the visit in a simultaneous announcement.

There have been growing international concerns about an arms arrangement in which Pyongyang provides Moscow with badly needed munitions to replenish its stock in Ukraine in exchange for economic assistance and technology transfers that would enhance the threat posed by Kim's nuclear weapons and missile programme.

Increasing ties between Russia and North Korea

Kim has been pushing to boost partnerships with Russia and China in a bid to strengthen his regional footing and launch a united front against the United States. During their September meeting at Russia's main space launch site, Kim invited the Russian president to visit North Korea at “a convenient time,” and Putin accepted.

US and South Korean officials have accused the North of providing Russia with artillery, missiles and other military equipment to help prolong its fighting in Ukraine, possibly in return for key military technologies and aid, although these allegations have been rejected by both countries. Any weapons trade with North Korea would be a violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions that Russia, a permanent UN Security Council member, previously endorsed.

On Wednesday (June 12), Kim sent Putin a congratulatory message commemorating Russia's National Day, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency. “Thanks to the significant meeting between us at the Vostochney Spaceport in September last year, (North Korea)-Russia friendly and cooperative relations developed into an unbreakable relationship of comrades-in-arms,” Kim said in the message.

Kim's comments came as media reports said Putin is expected to visit North Korea as early as next week. If realised, it would be their third summit meeting. Their first summit happened in Vladivostok in April 2019 and Putin also visited Kim's father Kim Jong II in Pyongyang in 2000. Kim himself visited Russia last year in September and inspected Russian weapon systems.

A win-win partnership

Putin has continuously sought to rebuild ties with North Korea as part of his efforts to restore his country's global clout and its Soviet-era alliances. North Korea is seeking higher-end weapons from Moscow in exchange for artillery munitions and short-range ballistic missiles, said Andrei Lankov, an expert on North Korea at Kookmin University in Seoul. 

He further said while Russia could be reluctant to share its state-of-the-art military technologies with North Korea, it's eager to receive munitions from Pyongyang. “There is never enough ammunition in a war, there is a great demand for them," he added. In March, South Korean Defence Minister Shin Wonsik said North Korea had already shipped about 7,000 containers filled with munitions and other military equipment to Russia.

In return, Shin said that North Korea had received more than 9,000 Russian containers likely filled with aid. This has seemingly confirmed that North Korea is aiding Russia's campaign in Ukraine. Putin also sent Kim a high-end Aurus Senat limousine, which observers say was a violation of a UN resolution aimed towards North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

In March, a Russian veto at the United Nations ended monitoring of UN sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear programme, prompting Western criticism. Moscow has said it “highly appreciates” Pyongyang's support for Russia's military action in Ukraine and mentioned its “close and fruitful cooperation” with the UN and other international organisations. Notably, the Ukraine conflict has put Russia at increasing odds with the US, while North Korea has also criticised US-led military drills with its arch-rival South.

(with inputs from agencies)

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