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Putin to Visit North Korea and Vietnam

Evan Berridge
Evan Berridge
Evan is an analyst specializing in Indo-Pacific affairs and has over 5 years of experience as a freelance writer.

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Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to visit North Korea and meet with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jung Un and other party officials as part of a trip to the Indo-Pacific that also includes traveling to Vietnam.

Claims of an upcoming visit began when a Russian Vedomosti newspaper published a report on Monday, June 10th, stating that Putin is visiting North Korea and Vietnam from Tuesday, June 18th, to Thursday, June 20th. This visit would be the first in 24 years.

The trip will likely focus on several topics, such as defense, economic development, and trade, among others.

Russian and North Korean flags fly during Kim’s visit to Russia in 2019. Source: Reuters/Yuri Maltsev

The airport in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, has been cleared of civilian aircraft, and Kim Il Sung Square appears to have preparations for a parade-like event, according to satellite imagery, similar to when former Russian Ministry of Defense Sergei Shoigu.

As a result of the upcoming visit, South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Hong-kyun made an emergency phone call to United States Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, stating the upcoming visit must not yield any more military partnerships between Russia and North Korea, violating sanctions. In return, Campbell agreed to handle any instability and problems within the Indo-Pacific due to the visit, emphasizing working together on this issue.

While speaking at the Stimson Center on June 12th, Campbell stated: “Hard currency? Is it energy? Is it capabilities that allow them to advance their nuclear or missile products? We don’t know. But we’re concerned by that and watching carefully.”

Russian-North Korean Relations

Russia and North Korea are currently in the process of strengthening relations, mostly driven by the shared border and a desire for stability.

After North Korea was founded in 1948, the Soviet Union assisted North Korea in the form of military aid throughout the Cold War. The Soviets aided the North Koreans during the Korean War, giving them fighter aircraft such as MiG-15s, small arms, tanks, and medical aid.

When the Soviet Union and China split in the late 1950s to early 1960s, North Korea tried to maintain good relations with both China and the Soviet Union, which proved somewhat difficult, and tensions in the 1960s between North Korea and China varied, with them improving in the 1970s.

Leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Krushchev, says goodbye to North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Il Sung. Source: AP

During the decline of the Soviet Union in the mid-to-late 1980s, then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev reduced aid, instead favoring South Korea. After the fall of the Soviet Union, then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin cut aid completely to North Korea, continuing to provide aid to South Korea. Vladimir Putin visited Pyongyang in April of 2000; Kim Jong-Un visited Putin in 2019; and again in 2023.

During the 2006 and 2009 North Korean nuclear tests, Russia condemned the actions of North Korea and supported imposing sanctions. Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov condemned the North Korean shelling of Yeonpyeong in 2010, stating it “deserves condemnation.”

Analysis

The visit by Putin will be for several reasons, but mainly to increase defense cooperation and bolster relations between the two nations.

Defense cooperation is likely the main topic of discussion. Although both nations have denied selling weapons to each other, which would be a violation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions, they have increased military relations in recent times. Western nations have accused Russia of using North Korean missiles and artillery shells in Ukraine, which could have been supplied illegally. This trip to North Korea could result in more munitions sales. North Korea can exploit the current conflict in Ukraine to push its defense industry amid shortages of munitions in the Russian supply chain, especially with rockets for rocket artillery and missiles for greater effects on targets.

In return for alleged weapons sales amid the war in Ukraine, Russia may provide military aid to North Korea, providing them with more modern equipment, if supply chain issues in Russia are resolved. Large stocks of the North Korean arsenal are made up of older Soviet stock or copies of foreign designs, such as older AK-pattern rifles and other Cold War-era small arms, older main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, and older MiG and Sukhoi aircraft.

North Korea has also begun developing its own designs, including newer missiles, such as the KN-25, and newer lines of armored vehicles, such as the M2020 Main Battle Tank (MBT), a new tank destroyer featuring a 105mm main gun, and Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs). North Korea is also developing additional weapon platforms, such as the Bulsae Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) series, the Saebyeol-9 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), and the Pongae-5 Surface to Air Missile (SAM) system.

This partnership could also further North Korean efforts to improve its fleet of nuclear weapons, despite being against UNSC sanctions Russia could provide the necessary technology, knowledge, or components to the North Koreans, strengthening their nuclear capabilities. North Korea plans to continue to launch military satellites throughout the year, and Russia could aid the North Koreans by sharing technology after the last launch in May exploded after taking off. The rocket was carrying a military satellite and is part of a program to monitor South Korea.

The UNSC has placed sanctions on North Korea due to the continued development of its nuclear program and threats of nuclear retaliation. This meeting and the continued partnership between Russia and North Korea could lead to stricter sanctions on North Korea and even Russia. The ones currently in effect have been criticized due to North Korea’s continued violation of them, despite recent revisions.

This increase in relations could also counter Western influence in the Indo-Pacific as nations such as Japan and South Korea, increase military spending, bolstering their armed forces, and participating in more joint exercises with the United States. It could also be a response to the increased support for Ukraine by Western nations providing aid.

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