Russia and North Korea have been warned they will “pay a price” for army weapons deals between the two nations – with Vladimir Putin said to have have accepted an invitation for a second summit with Kim Jong-un.
Western nations – and neighbours of both Moscow and Pyongyang – have expressed deep concern about how a revived Russia-North Korea access could bolster Putin’s war machine in Ukraine and provide Kim with satellite and missile technology. With both leaders becoming increasingly isolated on the world stage, they have been forced to turn to each other. Putin is after ammuition and weaponry for his forces to use in Ukraine, given the number of artillery shells and missiles they have expended during the 18-month invasion, while Kim will be looking to parlay that need into help with Pyongyang’s own satellite and nuclear programmes.
South Korea’s National Security Council (NSC) urged the two nations to not trade weapons, while saying that there would be consequences for violating any UN sanctions. “The government said that with any actions that threaten our security by North Korea and Russia violating [UN] Security Council resolutions, there will be a price to pay,” it said.
The NSC was holding the meeting in the wake of a summit on Wednesday in Russia’s far east. During those discussions, Putin offered to support North Korea’s UN-sanctioned satellite launch programme, while Kim was full of bombastic language and posturing – saying that Russia had Pyongyang’s full backing in its “sacred” invasion of neighbour Ukraine.
Both Russian and North Korean state media said on Thursday that an invitation for Putin to visit North Korea was made during the discussions – reporting in the same sycophantic tone in which the summit was conducted. "At the end of the reception, Kim Jong-un courteously invited Putin to visit the DPRK at a convenient time," Pyongyang’s KCNA said, referring to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's formal name. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Putin "gratefully" accepted the invite and that Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, would travel to Pyongyang in October. Since Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Putin has rarely travelled abroad.
Kim was expected to tour a Russian plant that builds fighter jets and visit the country's Pacific Fleet before he returns with his armoured train to North Korea, but his exact whereabouts remained uncertain on Thursday.
No timeline for their next meeting has been set, with Putin accepting the invititation to travel to North Korea at “a convenient time”, according to state media.
The two leaders exchanged gifts at the beginning of their meeting on Wednesday, according to North Korea’s KCNA news agency, including rifiles. The North Korean leader – said to be a car enthusiast – had a ride in Putin’s Russian-made limousine.
Kim said their bilateral ties have reached a new level with their meeting, and expressed his willingness to foster stable, future-oriented relations for the next 100 years.
The two leaders, both facing crippling sanctions from the international community, met for talks running over four hours. The US State Department saying that they “will not hesitate” to impose additional sanctions on Moscow and Pyongyang if any weapons deal ensues.
It was "troubling" that Russia is discussing cooperation with North Korea on programmes that would violate UN Security Council sanctions, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said after the summit.
James O’Brien, head of the Office of Sanctions Coordination at the US State Department, said Russia was “scraping the bottom of the barrel looking for help because it’s having trouble sustaining its military”. O’Brien said a deal would lead the US to identify the individuals and the financial mechanisms used to “at least limit their ability to be effective”.
Russia is preparing for an extended war in Ukraine and it is unable to meet the necessary industrial capacity, said James Nixey, director of the Russia and Eurasia programme at Chatham House, a London-based think-tank.
In return, Pyongyang is likely seeking to get food and missile technology from Moscow, “a relatively easy gift” for the Kremlin, Nixey said.
“We express our deep concern and regret that despite repeated warnings from the international community, North Korea and Russia discussed military cooperation issues, including satellite development, during their summit,” said Lim Soo-suk, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson.“Any science and technology cooperation that contributes to nuclear weapons and missile development, including satellite systems that involve ballistic missile technologies, runs against UN Security Council resolutions,” he added.
Lim also pointed out that Kim’s delegation in Russia includes several people sanctioned by the Security Council over involvement in illicit North Korean weapons development activities, including Korean People’s Army Marshal Ri Pyong Chol and Jo Chun Yong, a ruling party official who handles munitions policies. Lim said Moscow should realise there will be “very negative impacts” on its relations with Seoul if it proceeds with military cooperation with North Korea.
Additional reporting by agencies