In an era where international loyalties are increasingly liquid, Russia's incursion into Ukraine in 2022 has triggered a realignment, reigniting the historically ambivalent relationship between Russia and North Korea. The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has been vocal about intensifying Russo-North Korean ties, a sentiment reciprocated in the isolated corridors of Pyongyang.
Recent chatter in the American intelligence community points to ongoing discussions concerning an arms trade between the two nations. Russian dignitaries have been seen jetting in and out of North Korea, while missives have been exchanged between Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The Kremlin is keen to source artillery shells and anti-tank missiles from North Korea, whereas Kim desires Russian ingenuity in satellite technology and nuclear-powered submarines. Additionally, North Korea, struggling with its economically beleaguered status, is seeking food aid from its newfound ally.
This deepening connection raises eyebrows globally, hinting at a sense of desperation in Putin’s geopolitics—seeking an alliance with a pariah state encircled by global sanctions. Yet, this relationship is far from a mere convenience. North Korea has offered its political endorsement to Russia by recognizing Moscow's puppet governments in Ukraine's splintered provinces.
For Russia, North Korea’s aged yet operational weaponry could offer an immediate boost to its military inventory. However, there are limitations. North Korea's inefficient manufacturing capabilities and stretched procurement networks make it a less-than-ideal long-term supplier. This partnership thus benefits North Korea more, especially if Moscow loosens the strings on advanced military technologies that have been out of Pyongyang’s reach due to enduring international sanctions.
Historically, North Korea has played a double game with Russia and China. During the Sino-Soviet schism, North Korea leveraged its relationship with Moscow to exact better terms from Beijing. The hermit nations' relationship with Russia is fraught with insecurities. Any Russian overtures to Seoul or thawing relations between Russia and the U.S. have historically caused consternation in Pyongyang. Moscow’s interests in the Korean peninsula are pragmatic, lured by the prospect of warm-water ports for its Pacific Fleet and grand visions of connecting Siberian resources to Northeast Asia through North Korean corridors.
The revived military symbiosis between Russia and North Korea is not just an eyebrow-raiser but a notable change, muddying the geopolitical waters in Ukraine and the Korean Peninsula. Russia’s technical assistance could alter the status quo, potentially emboldening Kim Jong-un to employ more aggressive tactics, including using force.
Both nations, historically adept at geopolitical maneuvers, are in a renewed relationship shaped by converging political imperatives and mutual material interests. For global observers and policymakers, this Russo-North Korean entente presents a complex new variable in the calculus of global security.
Indeed, the Ukraine crisis of 2022-2023 may well be remembered not just for altering the European landscape but for rekindling a wary yet potent alliance on the other side of the globe—an alliance whose contours and implications are yet not fully understood.