Putin set to arrive in North Korea in rare trip amid deepening concerns about military cooperation

Seoul: Russian President Vladimir Putin was set to make his first visit to North Korea in 24 years on Tuesday for talks with leader Kim Jong-un in a highly symbolic trip showing off their ever-tightening relations amid deepening concerns about military cooperation.

Putin will “pay a state visit” to North Korea for a two-day trip at the invitation of the North’s leader, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported in a one-sentence dispatch Monday. The Kremlin made a similar announcement.

It will mark Putin’s first trip to North Korea since July 2000, when he met with former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the late father of the current leader. It also comes nine months after Kim traveled to Russia’s Far East in September last year for a summit with Putin, reports Yonhap news agency.

Since then, the two nations have been bolstering military ties and expanding the scope of cooperation in various fields, with the North supplying Russia with ammunition for its war in Ukraine in exchange for aid and suspected technological assistance for its space programme.

Putin will arrive in Pyongyang on Tuesday evening and sign “important” documents with the North’s leader Wednesday, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov was quoted as telling reporters by Russia’s news agency TASS.

“Several documents will be signed … and this can be said about a comprehensive strategic partnership treaty,” Ushakov said, adding that if it is signed, it would “outline prospects for further cooperation” between the two nations.

Later Tuesday, Russia’s TASS news agency reported that Putin ordered the signing of a comprehensive strategic partnership treaty with North Korea. It did not provide further details.

Experts said Putin’s trip will likely pave the way for deeper military cooperation between the two nations beyond arms transactions at a time when North Korea and Russia are voicing their solidarity against the US.

Pyongyang is accused of providing weapons and munitions to Russia for use in Moscow’s war in Ukraine in return for Russia’s suspected technical assistance in the development of North Korea’s spy satellite program and economic assistance.

Analysts said Kim and Putin may adopt a joint declaration that calls for both sides to elevate the level of military, security and economic cooperation but saw a low possibility of them clinching a treaty akin to a military alliance.

North Korea and the former Soviet Union signed a treaty of friendship and mutual assistance in 1961, when the North’s national founder Kim Il-sung visited Moscow.

The treaty included a provision for the so-called automatic military intervention, under which if one side is under an armed attack, the other provides military troops and other aid without hesitation.

But the deal was scrapped in 1996 after the Soviet Union established diplomatic ties with South Korea in 1990 and collapsed the following year.

In 2000, North Korea and Russia signed a new treaty of bilateral cooperation, but it did not contain such a provision, though it stated that both sides “immediately make contacts” in case one of them faces a crisis of being invaded.

Experts said North Korea and Russia are expected to highlight cooperation in the economic sector, as their arms deals and military cooperation constitute a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions banning Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes.

Experts said Russia is not expected to transfer sensitive weapons technology to North Korea, such as a nuclear-powered submarine, in return for Pyongyang’s arms supplies.

“What Russia could give the most to North Korea would be to assist its space development program, such as with satellites,” Park Won-gon, a professor at Ewha Womans University, said.

In late May, North Korea’s attempt to launch a military spy satellite ended in failure as a satellite-carrying rocket exploded right after liftoff. In November last year, North Korea successfully placed a spy satellite into orbit, and it has a plan to launch three more such satellites in 2024.

The issue of North Korea’s dispatch of its workers abroad could also be discussed at the upcoming summit, experts said. The North has a desperate need to earn foreign currency due to international sanctions, while Russia has been facing a labor shortage amid its war with Ukraine.


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