You are currently viewing Russo-North Korean Military Cooperation – A Strategic Partnership Reborn?

Russo-North Korean Military Cooperation – A Strategic Partnership Reborn?

Written by Emile Clarke

Edited by Chiara Nasonte

Supervised by Ginevra Bertamini

From 13 to 17 September 2023, Kim Jong-un embarked on his first visit to a foreign leader in over four years as he travelled to the Russian Far East to meet Vladimir Putin. This meeting symbolised a convergence of interests in opposing the U.S.-led Western order from which both countries find themselves increasingly isolated. Hence, although the summit did not produce an explicit statement of what was discussed or agreed on at the surface level, the meeting sparked fears of a potential arms deal between the two countries, which could well contribute to revitalising Putin’s war machine in Ukraine (Ye Hee Lee & Bolton, 2023).

On the first day of the summit, Putin and Kim Jong-un met at the Russian spaceport of Vostochny Cosmodrome, a location deliberately chosen due to the North Korean leader’s “great interest in rocket technology” (Лента Новости, 2023). The North Korean delegation was also shown around Russian military infrastructure throughout the visit, touring an aircraft plant in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, in which Su-35 and Su-57 fighters are produced, and an airbase in Vladivostok containing bombers such as Tu-160, Tu-95, and Tu-22, which have been actively used in Ukraine (The Guardian, 2023).

Officially, Putin has offered to provide North Korea with humanitarian aid and has spoken positively about the prospect of a constructive relationship between the two countries. At the same time, Kim Jong-un has expressed his support for Russia’s “sacred struggle for the punishment of a gathering evil that claims hegemony and feeds an expansionist illusion” (Лента Новости, 2023). Undoubtedly, both sides can offer each other much-needed support in achieving their respective strategic goals. Are we witnessing the rebirth of a Cold War-era strategic partnership between the two nations? What might the consequences of such a partnership be on the ground in Ukraine?