By Josh Smith
SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could soon meet with President Vladimir Putin and discuss possible arms deals, a US national security official has said, hinting at deeper ties between the two countries as they face Washington .
As Russia’s isolation from the war in Ukraine has grown, analysts say value in North Korea has increased. On the part of North Korea, relations with Russia have not always been as warm as during the height of the Soviet Union, but now the country is clearly reaping the benefits of Moscow’s need for friends.
Here’s how relations between North Korea and Russia started, and how they’re getting closer:
HOW DEEP ARE THE POLITICAL TIES?
Communist North Korea was formed in the early days of the Cold War with the support of the Soviet Union. North Korea later fought the South and its U.S. and United Nations allies to a stalemate in the 1950–1953 Korean War, with extensive assistance from China and the Soviet Union.
North Korea relied heavily on Soviet aid for decades, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s contributed to a deadly famine in the north.
Pyongyang’s leaders have often tried to use Beijing and Moscow to balance each other out. Kim initially had relatively cool relations with Russia and China, both of which joined the United States in imposing harsh sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear tests.
After his country’s most recent nuclear test in 2017, Kim took steps to restore ties.
He first met Putin in 2019 in the Russian city of Vladivostok.
In a message for Russia’s National Day in June, Kim pledged to stand up to Putin and strengthen strategic cooperation.
Russia has joined China in opposing new sanctions against North Korea, blocked a US-led strike and publicly divided the UN Security Council (UN Security Council) for the first time since it began punishing Pyongyang in 2006.
The most notable sign of closer ties came in July, when Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Pyongyang and visited a weapons exhibition that included the North’s banned ballistic missiles. He later stood next to Kim and saluted the missiles as they rolled by during a military parade.
HOW HAS THE WAR IN UKRAINE AFFECTED THE RELATIONSHIP?
North Korea has responded with public support for Moscow after Russia invaded Ukraine. It was one of the few countries to recognize the independence of Ukrainian regions claimed by Russia, and expressed support for the Russian annexation of parts of Ukraine.
The United States has accused North Korea of supplying arms to Russia, but it is unclear whether any supply took place. Both Russia and North Korea have denied these claims, but pledged to deepen defense cooperation.
“Moscow’s ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine has ushered in a new geopolitical reality in which the Kremlin and (North Korea) could move ever closer, perhaps even to the point where the quasi-alliance relationship that existed during the Cold War , would come back to life. Artyom Lukin, a professor at Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, wrote in a report for 38 North.
It is noteworthy that Pyongyang has started using the new term “tactical and strategic cooperation” to describe its relationship with Russia, he added.
Shoigu told Russian media on Monday that Moscow is discussing joint military exercises with North Korea.
“Why not, these are our neighbours. There is an old Russian saying: you don’t choose your neighbors and it is better to live in peace and harmony with your neighbors,” Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.
WHAT ARE THE ECONOMIC TIES?
Last year, Russia and North Korea resumed rail traffic for the first time since rail traffic was halted during the COVID pandemic. The train was carrying an unusually lavish cargo: thirty thoroughbred horses.
Shortly thereafter, Russia resumed oil exports to North Korea, according to United Nations data, the first such shipments since 2020.
The vast majority of North Korea’s trade goes through China, but Russia is also a potentially important partner, especially for oil, experts say. Moscow has denied violating UN sanctions, but Russian tankers have been accused of helping to circumvent restrictions on oil exports to North Korea. Sanctions observers have reported that workers remain in Russia despite a ban.
Russian officials have spoken openly of “working political arrangements” to employ 20,000 to 50,000 North Korean workers, despite UN Security Council resolutions banning such arrangements.
Russian officials and leaders in occupied areas of Ukraine have also discussed the possibility of having North Korean workers help rebuild war-torn areas.
(Reporting by Josh Smith. Edited by Gerry Doyle)