What The Guardian Writes About Putin and Kim: Alarming New Pact

The Guardian's editorial highlights the alarming implications of the newly signed strategic partnership between Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un, emphasizing its potential global impact

by Sededin Dedovic
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What The Guardian Writes About Putin and Kim: Alarming New Pact
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North Korean and Russian leaders can welcome these grand gestures, but they are intended as much for their global audience as for each other, writes The Guardian in its editorial. The real reward is the strategic partnership agreement they signed during Putin's first visit to Pyongyang since 2000.

The question is what this will mean in practice. The relationship has been strengthened again by events outside of Asia, but hopes for its containment lie in the region. The immediate cause is evidently the Russian invasion of Ukraine: it is believed that the isolated and impoverished Pyongyang has already delivered millions of artillery shells in exchange for cheap oil, food, and other much-needed goods.

Russia could also benefit from North Korean manpower, although more likely for labor than for combat. Far behind is Donald Trump’s catastrophic courting of Kim. Quite predictably, by giving him a summit at the highest level without any real strategy to improve relations in the long term, the then-president ensured that Kim would abandon improving relations with the U.S.

and look elsewhere. He also encouraged Putin and Xi Jinping, who had kept Kim at a distance, to embrace him more closely. Reviving promises of mutual support against "aggression" from the Soviet era sounds primarily symbolic given North Korea's nuclear power.

More disturbing is Putin's remark that the partnership could include "military-technical cooperation."

People watch a television broadcast reporting a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir P© Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images

U.S.

intelligence officials have said they believe Russia is providing nuclear submarines and ballistic missile technology, although they will likely charge a high price for such expertise and have mixed feelings about North Korea's advancement.

At the very least, Russia – which signed sanctions during the Obama years – is now obstructing diplomatic action to contain North Korea. The West has long feared closer ties between Pyongyang, Moscow, and Beijing.

The launching of the security pact between Australia, the UK, and the U.S. (AUKUS), a response to China's growing strength in the Asia-Pacific region, in turn, provoked Beijing's displeasure. But China does not consider the others as peers and does not want to be seen as part of a trilateral axis with two pariahs, hence no stop in Beijing on Putin's Asian tour.

China would also like to maintain primacy in managing North Korea and limit the development of its weaponry. It does not want the U.S. to become more active in the region and is concerned about its closeness with Japan and South Korea, who are also increasing their defense capabilities.

Kim’s shift from a long-standing commitment to reunification with the South to emphasizing hostility has not helped. South Korea has also explicitly stated that it will consider sending weapons to Ukraine in response to the Russian-North Korean agreement.

So far, Seoul has provided limited direct support with non-lethal supplies, although it has signed major arms deals with Kyiv's allies. Russia, which has also accelerated its own arms production, may still seek to restore relations with South Korea and Japan in the long term; their large economies starkly contrast with the limited attractions of North Korea.

This also gives hope that the agreement might be limited in scope and duration. The danger is how much damage could be done in the meantime.

How Russia helps North Korea

China is not the only regional power allegedly helping North Korea circumvent UN sanctions and prevent its economic collapse.

Last month, the U.S. claimed that Russia is supplying refined oil to North Korea in quantities exceeding the limit imposed by the UN Security Council. John Kirby, the White House national security spokesman, said that the proximity of the two countries’ commercial ports means oil supplies could continue indefinitely.

The border closures introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic drastically reduced North Korea's ability to trade and inflicted additional damage on its fragile economy. It is believed that Kim secured food and energy supplies from Russia to address shortages and is expected to do so again when he meets Putin this week.

In 2022, Russia and North Korea resumed train travel for the first time since rail travel was halted following the outbreak of Covid. Among the cargo on the first trip were 30 thoroughbred horses. When Putin last visited Pyongyang, in 2000, Russia was a member of the G8.

North Korea, then ruled by Kim's father, Kim Jong-il, was six years away from conducting its first nuclear test. The geopolitical climate has changed beyond recognition, led by a more hardline Putin and a younger Kim determined to turn his country into a true nuclear power.

This in turn brought Putin and Kim together in a mutually beneficial challenge to the "hostile" US and its allies in Europe and Northeast Asia.

Vladimir Putin
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