Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met during a high-stakes meeting in eastern Russia this week, underscoring deep ties and possibly cementing a military support and technology deal the U.S. warns will prolong the war in Ukraine.
While no official announcement was made, Western analysts still expect that North Korea and Russia reached an agreement in which Pyongyang will provide Moscow with artillery shells in return for food and critical technology to power nuclear missiles and satellites.
Greg Kennedy, the director of economic conflict and competition research group at King’s College London, said the lack of a formally announced deal probably has the intention to keep people “uncertain” on the specifications to avoid international scrutiny, especially because it would violate United Nations security resolutions.
“The uncertainty is something they can work with,” Kennedy said. “Without some kind of narrative or some kind of agreement that’s been verified by Western press, then you’re able to tell whatever narrative or whatever story you want around the world. So in different places, different Russian representatives can say different things.”
Kim traveled to the city of Vladivostok in eastern Russia via armored trained at the beginning of this week, making the trip after Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited North Korea in July.
The two leaders met Wednesday and announced that ties remained strong, according to North Korea’s Foreign Ministry. Kim said he supported the strategic interests of Russia and vowed to strengthen relations even further. He even invited Putin to visit North Korea.
Kim also toured the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a major launch center in Russia, as North Korea has struggled to get satellites up into space. Kim is extending his stay in Russia, expected to tour Russia’s Pacific fleet and other facilities in the coming days. North Korea may also seek help with modernizing its navy and air forces.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Friday said there was no deal signed on military-technical cooperation.
“No agreements were signed on this issue or on other issues and there were no such plans,” he said, according to Russian state-run media outlet Tass.
Details of any forged deal are likely to be revealed over time by Western intelligence officials who are monitoring the situation closely. Sasha Baker, the U.S. acting undersecretary of defense for policy, said the U.S. will “try to identify and expose and counter Russian attempts to acquire military equipment.”
The implications of any deal are high. North Korea, which is still technically at war with South Korea and has robust artillery production, likely has tens of millions of rounds it could deliver to Russia, which is expending high rates of artillery. Any technology provided to North Korea could lead to an emboldened Pyongyang, which has been ramping up nuclear missile testing as tensions rise with South Korea.
The U.S. has warned that North Korea will “pay a price” if the country supports Russia in the war against Ukraine.
Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said on Thursday they were monitoring the situation and “would expect” a deal was made.
“What we’re seeing right now is Russia in quite a desperate mode and seeking support from North Korea,” she told reporters. “Providing any type of ammunition would further continue the war.”
Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko also threw himself into the mix this week, saying there could be a three-way alliance among his country, Russia and North Korea.
Summing up all of the developments, Kennedy, of King’s College London, said for Russia, “there’s a bit of embarrassment here.”
“This is not the great alliance of World War II or anything like that,” he said.
But Kennedy noted that the likely deal means Russia could now fight through the winter while it ramps up production at home.
“Anybody who thinks this was going to be over has been hedging their bets,” he said of the war in Ukraine. “You should probably open your eyes and realize that this is going to be a long term thing.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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