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Putin’s North Korea Visit: Moscow, Pyongyang Embrace Relationship Upgrade As The West Watches With Concern

It’s Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s first visit to North Korea in 24 years and it started with a red carpet welcome and a hug from Kim Jong Un. The North Korean leader seems to have gone the distance to make sure Putin takes note of the welcome, even though it was 2.45 in the morning when Putin arrived. The streets were lit up, as were the buildings along the way to the state guest house. Putin’s portraits were smiling down from street corners and buildings.
There was a giant message on a 101-storey incomplete hotel that was lit up with the message – Welcome Putin.

As per state media KCNA, “Passing through charmingly lit streets of Pyongyang at night, the top leaders exchanged their pent-up inmost thoughts and opened their minds to more surely develop the DPRK-Russia relations.” It’s also been called a partnership that’s an “engine for accelerating the building of a new multi-polar world”. This is definitely a relationship upgrade for the two nations at a time of international isolation.

Senior Fellow at The Stimson Centre, Jenny Town explains why it’s a win-win for both. “They have a common problem and that is sanctions, and Putin has really been leading what he considers and what he deems the war on the West and trying to create a multipolar system and sort of upend or create an alternative to a U.S. led world order. That U.S. led world order has certainly caused problems for North Korea as well. Right? North Korea is also under sanctions. And the two have offered each other, you know, political and moral support in trying to resist sanctions.”

In March, Russia has already helped North Korea by vetoing the annual renewal of a panel of experts that monitors enforcement of longstanding UN sanctions against Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Before Putin traveled to Pyongyang, he praised the nation for resisting what he called US economic pressure, blackmail and threats. In the frontpage article in North Korea’s state newspaper, Putin was all praise for ‘Comrade’ Kim and said the focus would be to ‘develop alternative trade and mutual settlement mechanisms not controlled by the West’.

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Jenny Town adds, “Russia is the first country basically since the collapse of the Soviet Union that’s been willing to offer North Korea military cooperation. And so, this does give North Korea opportunities to upgrade their hardware on their conventional side, as well as their military reconnaissance satellites in their space programs, which Russia has said openly that they’d be willing to do. And then the big questions, of course, are whether Russia is willing to help on the WMD side. There are serious concerns about how much technology, how much cooperation the Russians might be willing to give the North Koreans and how much that might advance North Korea’s WMD programs.”

Naturally, there are concerns this visit raises for the West. There are already allegations that North Korea has helped Russia with supply of weapons that have been used against Ukraine, even though Moscow and Pyongyang have both denied arms transfer.

Pentagon Spokesperson Pat Ryder elaborated on those concerns. “The deepening cooperation between Russia and the DPRK is something that should be of concern, especially to anyone that’s interested in maintaining peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, but also supporting the people of Ukraine as they continue to fight against Russian aggression. And so, of course, you know, you’re well aware of, DPRK providing, ammunition and weapons to Russia that’s been able to help them, perpetuate their illegal and unprovoked war against the Ukrainian people, so it’s something that we’re going to continue to keep an eye on.”

The Russian President has a packed day that includes one-on-one meetings, a gala concert, state reception before heading to Vietnam for a two-day visit.