Pariah Kim Jong Un has little to lose in his meeting with Putin – but a lot to gain


Pariah Kim Jong Un has little to lose in his meeting with Putin - but a lot to gain

A rare summit between reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin underlines a growing pariah alliance that could impact global security.

Moscow, locked in a bloody war of attrition with Ukraine and squeezed by an unprecedented array of Western sanctions, is desperate to secure large quantities of munitions, including artillery shells and bullets, to fire at Ukrainian lines.

Such an arsenal of weaponry is one of the few things Pyongyang can provide.

In return, the isolated state, also heavily sanctioned and intent on developing ever-more technologically advanced missiles, will be seeking promises of support to feed its suffering population, boost its economy and assist its arms programmes.

That Kim has decided to venture out of North Korea by train to meet Putin in eastern Russia indicates that long-running, secretive talks between the two sides are set to produce a new deal of mutual convenience.

The UK, the United States and other Western allies will be watching closely.

Ukraine-Russia war latest: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrives on armoured train for Putin talks

Pariah Kim Jong Un has little to lose in his meeting with Putin - but a lot to gain

Putin has limited options

Washington has warned of further sanctions if North Korea does agree to send more arms to Russia for the war in Ukraine.

Pyongyang has already provided certain munitions, but this leader-level meeting signals a much more ambitious offering is on the table.

Moscow knows too well that it needs more weapons to sustain the current level of combat in Ukraine, which has seen millions of artillery shells fired since February 2022.

Russian industry has already ramped up its domestic capacity to produce ammunition, but the level falls far short of what the armed forces require.

Pariah Kim Jong Un has little to lose in his meeting with Putin - but a lot to gain

Russia’s ability to turn to the international market for weapons has been severely curtailed by Western sanctions, meaning Putin has limited options.

Close ally Iran has already stepped up to provide large quantities of bullets and a range of artillery shells, as well as drones.

However, efforts to secure weapons from Russia’s most powerful friend, China, have yet to deliver any meaningful results amid warnings from the West over military cooperation.

It makes this warming of ties with North Korea all the more troubling from a Western perspective because of the large amounts of North Korean munitions potentially on offer.

Two states united in notoriety

Pyongyang, already a pariah state, has little to lose and a lot to gain by offering increased support to Moscow.

The threat of even more Western sanctions will be of little deterrence if it is able to guarantee sanctions-busting assistance from Russia.

United in notoriety, North Korea is one of only a handful of countries that supported Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

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The North’s one-man ruler has terrorised South Korea and the wider region with ever more menacing missile tests and rhetoric.

The 1950 to 1953 Korean War ended in a ceasefire but remains a frozen conflict, with North and South Korea still bristling with weapons and soldiers.

United Nations sanctions, aimed at curbing North Korean weapons programmes, have cut the country off from most of the rest of the world.

Rather than back down, the North Korean leader has continued to focus his limited resources on developing and test-firing missiles at the expense of his long-suffering people.

The COVID pandemic further reinforced their isolation and desperation.

Pariah Kim Jong Un has little to lose in his meeting with Putin - but a lot to gain

Today, the country urgently needs food supplies and income – two things Russia could provide in return for munitions.

Kim will also be looking for Russian technological support in advancing his military lethality, including a nuclear weapons programme and spy satellites.

Only last week, it was revealed that Pyongyang has launched its first operational “tactical nuclear attack submarine” and assigned it to the fleet that patrols the waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan.

State media reported Kim saying that Submarine No. 841 – named Hero Kim Kun Ok after a North Korean historical figure – will be one of the main “underwater offensive means of the naval force” of North Korea.


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