July 24, 2024
Seoul will “take necessary countermeasures depending on the outcome” of Putin’s visit, Cho said on Sunday, amid speculation that Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could discuss military cooperation.
The countries’ closer ties were being driven by need in the wake of the war in Ukraine and mounting geopolitical risks, Cho said.
Putin and Kim examine a rocket assembly hangar during their meeting at Russia’s Vostochny cosmodrome in the far eastern Amur region last year. Photo: AP

“It remains to be seen whether this cooperation will lead to a long-term, strategic relationship, or whether it will be a temporary, tactical cooperation out of short-term necessity,” he told South Korean television network Channel-A.

Chang Ho-jin, national security adviser to President Yoon Suk-yeol, said on Sunday that Seoul had warned Moscow against crossing an unspecified red line in negotiations with the North.

“I think when the war in Ukraine is over, it would be necessary for [Russia] to think carefully about which one is more important and helpful for its national interest – the South or the North”, Chang said.

But Chang stressed that Putin’s visit did not necessarily indicate the emergence of a trilateral alliance involving Russia, China and North Korea to counter the deepening three-way military ties among South Korea, the United States and Japan.

South Korea was also verifying allegations that Russia was helping the North to develop missiles and spy satellites, which would pose “existential threats” to the South, said Park Won-gon, a political-science professor at Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul.

American and South Korean soldiers stand guard in the Panmunjom truce village in the Joint Security Area of the demilitarised zone separating North and South Korea. Photo: AFP

Sydney Seiler, the Korea chair at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said last week that Putin’s visit appeared to reinforce the desires of Moscow and Pyongyang to show they have “partners in this new direction” that the Russian president wants the international community to take.

Kim wants to show the West that North Korea can prevail despite international isolation, sanctions and pressure and that he has partners to turn to, according to Seiler.

“I believe China is somewhat concerned over it”, he said, adding that Russia’s aid to North Korea was “potentially very destabilising in a way that is detrimental to China’s interest”.

“My personal hope is that China seeks to shape the nature of that cooperation to ensure Russia does not embolden and enable North Korea to engage in more adventurous and dangerous activities,” Seiler told This Week in Asia.

In the near term, Pyongyang and Moscow working closer together was “primarily symbolic”, he added.

Jenny Town, a senior fellow at the Stimson Centre think tank, said Kim could “get a lot” out of the relationship with Russia following a “very difficult period” that had included the North’s pandemic-triggered isolation and failure in its negotiations with the US.

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North Korea releases 90-minute documentary on leader Kim Jong-un’s trip to Russia

North Korea releases 90-minute documentary on leader Kim Jong-un’s trip to Russia

“Being able to meet Putin is one big political victory” for Kim, she said, as Russia’s veto power provides cover at the UN Security Council and helps present an image that the North is “a much bigger player in global politics than it should be”.

Town said immediate, tangible results in trade, military and agricultural cooperation could also result, bolstering Kim’s claim to “strong leadership” as North Korea emerges from its latest bout of economic hardship.

In the longer term, she said the visit would enable North Korea to transition its economy “at a much faster rate” towards a greater focus on defence exports, rather than light industries like food production.

But Town said she was not expecting any major pronouncements to be made during the visit, as economic and military cooperation between the two countries is subject to international sanctions.

“It’s also questionable whether either one of them wants to deepen military cooperation or formalise it,” she said.

“Russia sees value in North Korea as a military partner in the war against the West, which incentivises it to do more … beyond just arms deals to supplement its war-fighting efforts in Ukraine.”

Missiles are launched from an undisclosed location in North Korea during a simulated nuclear counter-attack drill in this image released by state media in April. Photo: EPA-EFE
North Korea failed in its latest attempt to launch a military reconnaissance satellite last month. Russia is suspected of providing technological support for North Korea’s satellite and other programmes since Kim visited Russia to meet Putin and tour key technology and military sites in September last year.

After the launch failure, Kim said it amounted to an “antirevolutionary” attitude to try to rely on foreign technology.

His remarks suggested that the North was “reluctant to formalise” cooperation in military technology with Russia, Town said.

She noted that Russia and China had responded differently to a proposal in March for a mandate extension of the UN Security Council’s expert panel monitoring the enforcement of sanctions against North Korea. Moscow vetoed the proposal, while Beijing abstained from voting.

She said North Korea viewed Russia as its “No 1 foreign-policy priority” at a time when Russia was trying to upend the US-led world order while China was trying to be part of the global system and have some say in it.

China will never openly cooperate militarily with North Korea

Jenny Town, Stimson Centre senior fellow

“China will never openly cooperate militarily with North Korea,” Town said.

China would cooperate with North Korea mainly in the political and economic arena, she said, “which makes Russia’s willingness to have that deeper relationship including military cooperation very attractive for North Korea”.

While China was maintaining its position in support of denuclearisation of North Korea, “Russia accepts North Korea as a nuclear-armed country”, Town added.

“As long as Russia sees value in North Korea as a military partner, North Korea is going to keep Russia as its priority at the moment.”

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