Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un have a lot in common. Neither travels much. Putin hasn’t left Russia this year, and Kim hasn’t left North Korea in four years. Both countries are called “rogue states” and face heavy international sanctions. They both criticize the US.

Common enemies often bring leaders together, and that’s true for Putin and Kim. Their relationship isn’t quite a “bromance” like former US President Trump described with Kim, but they do see benefits in getting closer.

What’s in it for Russia? North Korea has a big defense industry, which could be helpful for Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. The US believes Russia is already talking to North Korea about getting ammunition and artillery shells. While Russian officials haven’t confirmed this, there are hints of increasing military cooperation. In July, Russia’s defense minister visited North Korea, the first time since the Soviet Union’s collapse, and discussed weapons. Joint military exercises might also be planned.

Former Russian foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev, now in the US, sees Russia seeking weapons from North Korea as a sign of Russia’s desperation. A true great power wouldn’t need North Korea’s help.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine shows his desire to change the global order. Military cooperation with North Korea might be part of that. If an arms deal happens, it would be a big shift. Russia used to support UN sanctions against North Korea’s nuclear program, which included a ban on trading weapons. However, some Russian voices are now questioning why they should follow these sanctions, considering the current chaotic international situation.

North Korea likely hopes to get humanitarian aid from Russia to help with its food shortages. There is also talk that North Korea wants advanced Russian technology for satellites and military uses, including nuclear submarines.

Russia might see a deal with North Korea as a way to restock its munitions. But even without North Korea’s help, Russia’s war efforts won’t stop. Kozyrev believes Putin can keep going for a long time by adapting to sanctions and cooperating with countries like China, North Korea, and some African regimes. This might not be a long-term solution, but it could work for now and possibly for years to come.

Published: 18th June 2024

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