Last week, President Vladimir Putin made an official state visit to the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) – North Korea, his first for almost a quarter of a century. As part of that visit Putin and Kim Jong Un signed a so-called defense pact in the North Korean capital on June 19.

The military treaty states: “In the event that any one of the two sides is put in a state of war by an armed invasion from an individual state or several states, the other side shall provide military and other assistance with all means in its possession without delay.”

In response to that Pyongyang announced early this week that it will be sending troops in the form of a military engineering unit to support Russian forces on the ground in the Donetsk region. The troops are expected to arrive on the battlefield as soon as next month.

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The DPRK has already supplied almost two million rounds of artillery ammunition, rockets for Russian multiple launch rocket systems and, it is alleged, ballistic missiles to support Putin’s forces since the two leaders met in Russia in September. The active participation of North Korean combat troops raises the specter of escalation to the conflict, especially as commentators think it will not go well for Pyongyang’s sappers on the battlefield.

Pentagon spokesperson Pat Ryder said during a briefing on June 25 that North Korean troops were effectively being sent to their slaughter and questioned the wisdom of the deployment. He said, “I think that if I were North Korean military personnel management, I would be questioning my choices on sending my forces to be cannon fodder in an illegal war against Ukraine – we’ve seen the kinds of casualties that Russian forces [have been taking].”

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He added that the US was monitoring what appeared to be ever-deepening military ties between the two countries.

Ilya Ponomarev, a former Russian member of parliament told the UK’s Daily Express that North Korea has become an important bridge between the Kremlin and China. Beijing can indirectly transfer military equipment to Moscow through Pyongyang without falling foul of Western sanctions.

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As he explained: “North Korea is one of key Russian partners and the meaning of the rationale behind them becoming such a partner is because they are acting as a bridge between China and Russia.

“Essentially all the military equipment that is delivered from North Korea was developed for the North Koreans by the Chinese.

“China is cautious not to fall foul of secondary sanctions by the US, but North Korea is not in danger.

“So, there is no problem for the Chinese to assist North Koreans and then North Koreans to make trade with Russia and benefit from this both financially and in terms of military development.”

Michael Carpenter, a member of the US National Security Council commented, the day after Putin and Kim signed their defense treaty, that the coalition that Putin was building between Russia, North Korea, Iran and Syria stood in stark contrast to the group of 50 nations standing beside Ukraine in the “Ramstein” Defense Contact Group and the approximately 100 countries that supported the UN Charter principles in the Global Peace Summit held in Switzerland on June 15 and 16.

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