North Korea And Russia Sign Strategic Agreement

Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, and Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, inked a strategic agreement on Wednesday that promises assistance to each other in the event of “aggression.” Both countries are now experiencing growing tensions with the West.

Although specifics of the agreement were not immediately available, this could represent the strongest relationship between Pyongyang and Moscow since the end of the Cold War. Regarding security, trade, investment, cultural links, and humanitarian relations, both leaders characterized it as a significant improvement in their relationship.

The summit coincided with Putin’s first visit to North Korea in 24 years, and growing concerns from the United States and its allies were raised about the possibility of an arms deal whereby Pyongyang would supply Moscow with much-needed ammunition for its war in Ukraine in exchange for economic support and technology transfers that could increase the threat posed by Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile program.

Kim described the two nations’ relationship as a “fiery friendship,” calling the agreement their “strongest ever treaty” and elevating it to the status of an alliance. He promised to fully back Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.

Putin called it a “breakthrough document” reflecting shared desires to move relations to a higher level.

Experts claim that a 1961 deal between North Korea and the former Soviet Union required Moscow to launch a military intervention in the event that the North was attacked. Following the fall of the USSR, the agreement was abandoned and was replaced in 2000 with a new one that provided less robust security guarantees. If the 1961 treaty and the new agreement offer the same degree of protection, it wasn’t immediately apparent.

Kim greeted Putin at the airport, where they had a limo ride, two embraces, and shook hands. The massive parade passed through the well-lit streets of the city, where buildings featured large Putin images and Russian flags.

Following an overnight stay at a state guest house, Putin was greeted on Wednesday morning with a ceremony in the city’s main square, which was packed with what seemed to be tens of thousands of spectators. These included children holding balloons and individuals wearing coordinated red, white, and blue T-shirts representing both nations’ national colors. People were waving flags and flowers and chanting “Welcome Putin” as they lined the streets.

Putin and Kim strode across a red carpet, giving an honor guard a salute. Key figures in Kim’s entourage were shown, including Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, the leader’s formidable sister Kim Yo Jong, and top aide and ruling party secretary Jo Yong Won.

At their talks, Putin thanked Kim for North Korea’s support in Ukraine, part of what he said was a “fight against the imperialist hegemonistic policies of the U.S. and its satellites against the Russian Federation.”

Putin praised ties that he traced to the Soviet army fighting the Japanese military on the Korean Peninsula at the end of World War II, and Moscow’s support for Pyongyang during the Korean War.

What kind of support was pledged in the agreement was not spelled out. Kim has used similar language before, consistently saying North Korea supports what he describes as a just action to protect Russia’s interests and blaming the crisis on the West’s “hegemonic policy.”

North Korea is under heavy U.N. Security Council sanctions over its weapons program, while Russia also faces sanctions by the U.S. and its Western partners over its invasion of Ukraine.

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. On Tuesday, a U.S. State Department spokesman said that in recent months, Washington has seen North Korea “unlawfully transfer dozens of ballistic missiles and over 11,000 containers of munitions to aid Russia’s war effort.”

Both Pyongyang and Moscow deny accusations of 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 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 in the Security Council 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.

Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters in Pyongyang the leaders exchanged gifts after the talks. Putin presented Kim with a Russian-made Aurus limousine and other gifts, including a tea set and a naval officer’s dagger. Ushakov said Kim’s presents to Putin included artwork depicting the Russian leader.

Later, Putin and Kim attended a concert featuring marching soldiers, weapons-throwing, dancing and patriotic songs. Putin clapped and spoke to Kim through a translator, saying something that made both laugh.

At a dinner before Putin’s scheduled departure for Vietnam, he cited a proverb that said “a close neighbor is better than a distant relative,” while Kim toasted the “immortality of the invincible DPRK-Russia relations that are the envy of the world.”

Earlier, Putin said the partnership included cooperation in political, trade, investment, cultural and humanitarian fields, in addition to security. He added that Russia would not rule out developing military-technical cooperation with North Korea.

The Kremlin’s website said they also signed an agreement to build a road bridge on their border, and another on cooperation in health care, medical education and science.

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.”

Koo Byoungsam, spokesperson of South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said the Seoul government was still interpreting the results of the summit, including what Russia’s response might be if the North comes under attack.

China is North Korea’s biggest ally and economic lifeline, accounting for most of the country’s trade. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said high-level exchanges between Moscow and Pyongyang are “bilateral arrangements between two sovereign states,” without giving a specific assessment of the agreements.

Sam Greene of the Center for European Policy Analysis said Putin’s trip to Pyongyang is an indication of how beholden he is to some other countries since invading Ukraine. Previously, “it was always the North Koreans coming to Russia. It wasn’t the other way around,” he said.

The trip is a good way to make “the West nervous” by demonstrating Moscow has interests and clout beyond Ukraine, Greene added.

The North could also seek to increase labor exports to Russia and other activities to get foreign currency in defiance of U.N. sanctions, according to 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.

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 U.S., 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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