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Russia and North Korea Strengthen Their Relations

Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin during their meeting in Vladivostok, Russia, in 2019. Source: Getty Images.

The ongoing war in Ukraine is reshaping friendships and alliances. This is also the case with Russia and North Korea. Since the inception of the conflict, the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, has expressed his full support for the Russian case. 

In particular, as a country engaged for decades in the war against what it calls "hostile forces" (namely the US), Pyongyang seems to feel strong empathy for the struggle for independence put forward by the newly recognized republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.

As Tass Agency reposts, last June, Kim expressed his direct support by saying, "[The Russian people have] achieved great successes in accomplishing the just cause of defending the dignity and security of their country ... while braving all sorts of challenges and hardships," and more importantly, "The Korean people extend full support and encouragement to them." 

As the Kremlin is cut off from the West by sanctions, non-aligned and friendly countries become the last hope for forming an opposition bloc. North Korea, a country-fortress, highly focused on the development of a strong nuclear arsenal and, most importantly, bordering Russia, is a strong case in point.  

In a very recent letter sent by the Russian President to his North Korean counterpart, Vladimir Putin congratulated the leader on the anniversary of Pyongyang's liberation day. The letter’s focus was to strengthen relations between the two countries based on cooperation, understanding, and interest, given the presence of a common enemy.  

As Kim stated in his reply to Mr. Putin, as the BBC reports, "Comradely friendship" will grow even stronger for the two allies. He also referred to the countries’ longstanding alliance enhanced during the anti-Japanese war and the stable support received by the Soviet Union.  

Accordingly, on these grounds and as the BBC reports, he said that "Strategic and tactical co-operation, support and solidarity had been put on a new high stage, in the common front for frustrating the hostile forces' military threat and provocation".

While someone may expect these to be just kind words to keep the countries’ relations alive, this is not the case. Lately, speculations about the possible North Korean involvement in the reconstruction works of the newly proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk have arisen. 

As Al Jazeera reports, the leader of the Donetsk separatist leader, Denis Pushilin, has allegedly opened a communication channel with the North Korean leader. Accordingly, the goal would be to engage Pyongyang economically in the region by sending laborers to work on several reconstruction projects.  

The message, not coincidentally, was sent on August 15 to congratulate Kim on the anniversary of the country’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule. Using this historical event as a powerful narrative, Pushilin stressed that “The people of the Donbas region, too, are fighting to regain their freedom and justice of history today just as the Korean people did 77 years ago.”  

Signs of new cooperation talks were given on July 29 by Donetsk's foreign ministry, Olga Makeeva. Accordingly, she traveled to Moscow to attend a meeting with the North Korean ambassador to Russia, Sin Hong Chol. During the meeting, the attendees discussed the two countries’ economic cooperation. It seems, moreover, that similar talks are also ongoing in Luhansk.

Of course, the US could not accept this news with joy. As ABC news reports, the US State Department spokesperson, Ned Price, expressed his disappointment at the possibility that North Korean workers could be employed in what are considered Russian-occupied territories.

Moreover, this would be ambiguous on the part of Russia because of the 2017 Western sanctions imposed on North Korea and endorsed by the Kremlin. These concerned the long-range missile test executed by North Korea in the same year. Accordingly, the sanctions required the repatriation of all North Korean workers within 24 months from all member states. 

North Korea is the only country, along with Russia and Syria, to have recognized the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk. Undoubtedly, the deep rift in the relations between Russia and the West can serve Pyongyang’s strategic goals, especially in the development of the country’s nuclear arsenal. In this regard, the fractures currently ongoing in the UN Security Council concerning the Russian and Chinese veto on more sanctions against North Korea can facilitate the latter’s ambitious weapons development projects.


Edited by: Gwyn St

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Tags: Russia North Korea Sanctions Luhansk Donetsk


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