West Panics over Putin’s Strategic Alliance with North Korea: A Major Shift in Geopolitics

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MOSCOW/SEOUL, June 19 (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a mutual defense pact with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, marking a significant pivot in Russia’s foreign policy towards Pyongyang. This development, the first of its kind in 24 years, signals a dramatic shift in Russia’s stance amidst its confrontation with the West over Ukraine.

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The agreement, which includes a mutual defense pledge, represents a fundamental change in Russia’s approach to North Korea, moving away from two decades of supporting United Nations sanctions against Pyongyang. Analysts suggest this could alter the strategic balance in Northeast Asia significantly, akin to Russia’s alliance with Belarus in Eastern Europe.

Strategic Implications

The specifics of the pact were not immediately disclosed, but experts like Artyom Lukin from Russia’s Far Eastern Federal University note that this agreement could challenge the U.S.-centric alliances in Northeast Asia. “If Russia provides security guarantees to North Korea, then the DPRK becomes an analogue of Belarus, Russia’s main ally in Eastern Europe,” Lukin said. This could pose substantial challenges for South Korea and Japan, key U.S. allies in the region.

While North Korea has a longstanding defense treaty with China, its military collaboration with Russia has intensified over the past year. China, North Korea’s main trading partner, has responded cautiously, likely to avoid complicating its broader international relations.

Driven by the Ukraine Conflict

Putin’s engagement with Kim, including gifts and a tour of Russia’s space launch center, has heightened concerns among the U.S. and its Asian allies. These nations are particularly wary of potential transfers of missile or nuclear technology from Russia to North Korea in exchange for munitions to support Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Ramon Pacheco Pardo of King’s College London suggests that while Russia might share some military expertise with North Korea, it will likely withhold its most advanced technologies. “Without the invasion of Ukraine, I don’t think Russia would have felt compelled to share such technology,” Pacheco Pardo noted.

Diplomatic and Strategic Concerns

Diplomats and analysts are closely watching this development. Four diplomats, speaking anonymously, expressed that while Russia’s ties with North Korea would deepen, Moscow would be selective in the technology it shares. Another Western diplomat in Seoul highlighted that this growing cooperation is prompting Europe to strengthen ties with South Korea and Japan.

Russia maintains that its relationship with North Korea will adhere to international agreements, rejecting any external dictates, especially from the United States. Both Russia and North Korea have denied U.S. allegations of weapon transfers for the Ukraine conflict.

A Complex Partnership

Putin’s visit included symbolic gestures such as riding in luxury limousines with Kim and attending a concert together. The Kremlin chief accused the U.S., South Korea, and Japan of escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula, asserting North Korea’s right to bolster its defenses.

Kim Jong Un praised the new pact, emphasizing its peace-loving and defensive nature while pledging full support for Russia’s policies, including its actions in Ukraine. This move could potentially disrupt the international sanctions regime against North Korea, especially after Russia’s veto of a UN panel monitoring these sanctions in March.

Strategic Balances and Limits

While the burgeoning Russia-North Korea relationship is profound, analysts caution about its limits. Russia, despite its close ties with North Korea, is unlikely to support significant nuclear proliferation. China also remains cautious, balancing its antagonism with the U.S. against its broader international interests.

Anthony Rinna of Sino-NK notes that Russia’s enhanced partnership with North Korea could jeopardize its diplomatic balance with South Korea. “By sidling up to North Korea, especially by upgrading their relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership, Russia risks undermining its policy of diplomatic equidistance,” Rinna explained.

Conclusion

Putin’s alliance with Kim Jong Un marks a significant geopolitical shift, potentially reshaping alliances and strategic calculations in Northeast Asia. As the implications of this new partnership unfold, the international community will be closely monitoring its impact on regional and global stability.

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