On Sept. 13, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a summit meeting with North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong-un at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East. 

Concerns in the international community are rapidly spreading as it is presumed that illegal transactions banned by the UN Security Council were discussed at this meeting.

Putin’s strategic intention is, first of all, to hold a dominant position in the war and break Ukraine’s will to continue the war by resolving the problem of shortages of weapons and ammunition.

Also, he is planning to strengthen Russia-China-North Korea solidarity by involving China, which has shown a passive attitude so far, in order to break international isolation and counter pressure from the West.

Although Putin’s desperate situation is understandable, it is very likely that his choice will ultimately result in a huge strategic mistake that will cause significant repercussions and adverse effects.

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From “Great Russia” to “fallen Russia”

First of all, this summit will be remembered as an event that brought deep humiliation not only to the personal image of “strongman” Putin, but also to Russians.

Putin arrived at the meeting 30 minutes early to beg for arms and ammunition from the dictator of this pariah state. The schedule and location of the meeting were also accepted as requested by Kim Jong-un.

In addition, Putin even immediately accepted Kim Jong-un’s request to visit North Korea.

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This is the exact opposite of what happened 73 years ago during the Korean War, when Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, visited Stalin and begged for weapons and ammunition needed for the war.

Moreover, Putin even showed himself repudiating the UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea.

It means that Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, is abandoning its authority and engaging in illegal backdoor deals. In the end, illegal arms trade with North Korea will spread the image of the country not as the “Great Russia” advocated by Putin, but as a “fallen Russia” that clings to a criminal state.

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Although Putin’s desperate situation is understandable, it is very likely that his choice will ultimately result in a huge strategic mistake.

North Korea: unreliable trading partner

Putin’s plan to use North Korea as ‘Russia’s military supply base’ is expected to be very difficult to realize. First of all, it is difficult to rely on North Korea to furnish a stable and sustainable weapons and ammunition production capacity because of its outdated industry. For example, Russia’s annual use of artillery shells in its war against Ukraine is 18 million rounds, and domestic artillery production is 1-2 million rounds. The 2-3 million rounds that North Korea has in stock only accounts for 10 percent of Russia’s annual demand.

Nevertheless, North Korea is exaggerating its military production capacity. In fact, North Korea launched short- and medium-range missiles once every 9 to 10 days last year, and also launched two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) an hour before the meeting. This appears to be a “pre-publicity show” aimed at relieving Putin’s doubts and maximizing the results of the arms deal by showing off North Korea’s weapons production capabilities and performance.

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In addition, North Korea’s unreliable political tendencies and negotiation tactics are also expected to act as an obstacle to partnership. For North Korea, Russia is no longer perceived as an ideological ally, as it was in the past. So, Pyongyang is seeking maximum benefit between Moscow and Beijing. Also, considering North Korea’s typical negotiation tactics, North Korea will first start with a low-level deal and increase the level of demands as Russia’s war situation becomes more urgent, which will place a significant burden on Russia.

China: same bed, different dream

Putin’s plan to strengthen Russia-China-North Korea military solidarity and confront the West by involving China is also nothing more than an illusion. China is well aware that these countries have less common interest to form a front, so it is very likely to manage the current situation at the level of “showing off.” The reasons for this are as follows.

Firstly, the relationship between China and Russia can be said to be a kind of “marriage of convenience” in which the relationship is based on temporary needs. It can be said to be a relationship with an inherent sense of mutual heterogeneity and distance.

Second, China has a tendency to be a so-called “status seeker,” prioritizing status and reputation in the international community as “G2.” Therefore, China feels considerable burden about being grouped with Russia and North Korea. In fact, despite the request for support from North Korea, Beijing has been limiting support to Pyongyang.

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Third, above all, President Xi Jinping actually does not want the new Cold War because of the domestic economic crisis and US-China competition. Xi is well aware that strengthening China-Russia-North Korea solidarity at this point will accelerate trade friction with the West and military intervention to block China.

Putin stands before the “river of no return”

South Korea has maintained a firm principle of not providing lethal weapons to Ukraine. However, Kim Jong-un wants technology transfer for advancement of nuclear weapons in return for handing over weapons and ammunition to Russia. If Putin provides “the last pieces” for North Korea’s nuclear armament, it will have fatal consequences for South Korea’s security, and will have irreversible consequences both in Russia’s war against Ukraine and in the non-proliferation system.

In that case, South Koreans will recall the history that North Korea invaded South Korea with weapons supplied by the Soviet Union during the Korean War (1950-1953). Then, South Korea’s options will inevitably be narrowed. In his keynote speech at the UN General Assembly held last month, South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol stated: “The North Korea-Russia military deal will be a provocation directly targeting the security and peace of not only Ukraine but also the Republic of Korea,” and “South Korea will not sit idly by.”

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Moreover, the completion of North Korea’s nuclear armament advancement will give South Korea a strong justification to pursue its own nuclear armament. South Korea’s push for nuclear armament will cause a nuclear domino effect in Northeast Asia. It means that Russia, with a one wrong choice, would be violating its “non-proliferation system” principle that it has maintained for decades. In the end, it is up to Putin’s choice whether to cross the “river of no return” holding devil’s hand.

Jung Jaewook is Professor at Hoseo University (Republic of Korea).

The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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Comments ( 1)

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David
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Putin is like a drowning man clutching at straws.
Long term, North Korea will be an inferior supply partner compared with EU and USA.
South Korea also has significant capacity to back fill US stock shipments to Ukraine.
Putin’s is slowly but surely being overtaken.

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