July 21st, 2024

North Korea’s Kim vows ‘full support’ for Russia in Ukraine as Putin announces deal to boost ties

By Kim Tong-hyung, The Associated Press on June 18, 2024.

CORRECTS DATE TO EARLY WEDNESDAY, JUNE 19 - A motorcade with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un rolls from the Pyongyang Sunan International Airport outside Pyongyang, North Korea, early Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised full support for Russia’s war in Ukraine, as he met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Pyongyang on Wednesday in a bid to expand their economic and military cooperation and display a united front against Washington.

Putin thanked Kim for the support and said the two countries would sign an agreement to boost their partnership as both “fight against the imperialist hegemonistic policies of the U.S. and its satellites against the Russian Federation.”

Putin’s visit to Pyongyang comes amid growing concerns about an arms arrangement in which North Korea provides Russia with badly needed munitions to fuel Moscow’s war in Ukraine, in exchange for economic assistance and technology transfers that could enhance the threat posed by Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile program.

Putin said in remarks carried by Russian state Tass and RIA Novosti news agencies that the “new fundamental document will form the basis of our ties for a long perspective.”

North Korea is under heavy U.N. Security Council economic sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile programs, while Russia is also grappling with sanctions by the United States and its Western partners over its aggression in Ukraine.

Putin, making his first trip to North Korea in 24 years, thanked North Korea for “consistent and unchanging support of the Russian policies, including in the Ukrainian direction.”

Putin hailed ties that date back to the Soviet army fighting the Japanese military on the Korean Peninsula in the closing moments of World War II, and Moscow’s support for Pyongyang during the Korean War.

“Our pilots flew tens of thousands of combat missions during the liberation war of 1950-53,” Putin said.

Kim said that relations between Moscow and Pyongyang are at a new high, even compared to Soviet times, and voiced hope that “the fiery friendship of the two countries will grow more monolithic,” according to Russian state news agencies.

Kim was quoted vowing his country’s “full support and solidarity to the Russian government, army and people in carrying out the special military operation in Ukraine to protect sovereignty, security interests and territorial integrity.”

Kim has used similar language in the past, consistently saying that the North Korea supports what he describes as a just action to protect Russia’s interests and blaming the crisis on the U.S.-led West’s “hegemonic policy.”

It wasn’t immediately clear what support from North Korea might look like.

He also hailed Russia’s “important role and mission in preserving the strategic stability and balance in the world.”

Before the talks, Kim welcomed Putin with a lavish ceremony in the city’s main square, where he introduced key members of the North Korean leadership including Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui; top aide and ruling party secretary Jo Yong Won; and the leader’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong.

Huge crowds lined up on the streets to greet Putin’s motorcade, chanting “Welcome Putin” and waving flowers and North Korean and Russian flags.

Putin is being accompanied by several top officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Denis Mantrurov, Defense Minister Andrei Belousov and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, according to his foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov.

U.S. and South Korean officials accuse the North of providing Russia with artillery, missiles and other military equipment for use in Ukraine, possibly in return for key military technologies and aid. Both Pyongyang and Moscow deny accusations about North Korean weapons transfers, which would violate multiple U.N. Security Council sanctions that Russia previously endorsed.

Along with China, Russia has provided political cover for Kim’s continuing efforts to advance his nuclear arsenal, repeatedly blocking U.S.-led efforts to impose fresh U.N. sanctions on the North over its weapons tests.

In March, a Russian veto at the United Nations ended monitoring of U.N. sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear program, prompting Western accusations that Moscow is seeking to avoid scrutiny as it buys weapons from Pyongyang for use in Ukraine. U.S. and South Korean officials have said they are discussing options for a new mechanism for monitoring the North.

South Korean analysts say that Kim will likely seek stronger economic benefits and more advanced military technologies from Russia, although his more sensitive discussions with Putin aren’t likely to be made public.

While Kim’s military nuclear program now includes developmental intercontinental ballistic missiles that can potentially reach the U.S. mainland, he may need outside technology help to meaningfully advance his program further. There are already possible signs that Russia is assisting North Korean with technologies related to space rockets and military reconnaissance satellites, which Kim has described as crucial for monitoring South Korea and enhancing the threat of his nuclear-capable missiles.

The North may also seek to increase labor exports to Russia and other illicit activities to gain foreign currency in defiance of U.N. Security Council sanctions, according to a recent report by the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank run by South Korea’s main spy agency. There will likely be talks about expanding cooperation in agriculture, fisheries and mining and further promoting Russian tourism to North Korea, the institute said.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Putin’s visit to North Korea illustrates how Russia tries, “in desperation, to develop and to strengthen relations with countries that can provide it with what it needs to continue the war of aggression that it started against Ukraine.”

“North Korea is providing significant munitions to Russia … and other weapons for use in Ukraine. Iran has been providing weaponry, including drones, that have been used against civilians and civilian infrastructure,” Blinken told reporters following a meeting with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest point in years, with the pace of both Kim’s weapons tests and combined military exercises involving the United States, South Korea and Japan intensifying in a tit-for-tat cycle. The Koreas also have engaged in Cold War-style psychological warfare that involved North Korea dropping tons of trash on the South with balloons, and the South broadcasting anti-North Korean propaganda with its loudspeakers.

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