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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Kim Jong-un and Putin’s Summit: Implications for Ukraine

In an unprecedented diplomatic move, Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s enigmatic leader, has embarked on a significant journey to Russia. The purpose of this rare summit is to explore the possibility of a substantial arms deal, potentially involving the supply of North Korean arms for the ongoing war in Ukraine.

A Momentous Arrival

Kim’s arrival in Russia was nothing short of dramatic. His armoured train pulled into Khasan station, which serves as the primary rail gateway connecting Russia’s Far East with North Korea. The news of this pivotal moment was reported by Japan’s Kyodo news agency, citing an unnamed Russian official source. This event set the stage for what could be a historic meeting.

Diplomacy Amid Economic Endeavors

The summit is scheduled to take place during the Eastern Economic Forum, held in the Russian port city of Vladivostok, where President Vladimir Putin has already arrived. Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, emphasized that Kim’s trip to Russia and his meeting with Putin go beyond a mere diplomatic exchange; it signifies a full-scale visit aimed at strengthening ties between the two nations.

A Global Concern

This meeting unfolds against the backdrop of growing concerns in the West regarding Pyongyang’s intentions to supply weapons to Moscow. These arms would potentially replace stocks that have been significantly depleted during the prolonged 18-month conflict in Ukraine.

Dmitry Peskov responded to US warnings regarding any potential arms deal with a resolute statement: “As you know, while implementing our relations with our neighbors, including North Korea, the interests of our two countries are important to us, and not warnings from Washington. It is the interests of our two countries that we will focus on.”

Kim was not alone on this historic journey. He was accompanied by senior government officials, including military personnel, as confirmed by North Korea’s official KCNA news agency. The delegation is believed to include his foreign minister, Choe Sun-hui, and prominent party members responsible for defense industry and military affairs, including munitions industry department director Jo Chun-ryong.

Speculation on Munitions

The presence of Jo Chun-ryong has raised speculation that North Korea and Russia may be poised to reach an agreement on munitions purchases. Michael Madden, a North Korea leadership expert at the Washington-based Stimson Center, noted, “The presence of Jo Chun-ryong indicates that North Korea and Russia will conclude some type of agreement for munitions purchases.”

Kim’s Symbolic Departure

Before embarking on this historic journey, KCNA released photographs capturing Kim’s departure from Pyongyang. The images showed military guards of honor and crowds dressed in dark suits and colorful attire. They waved flowers and flags as Kim boarded the green-and-yellow train that would carry him to Russia. Notably, this marks Kim’s first visit abroad in over four years and his first since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Stakes for Putin and Kim

US officials believe that Putin’s primary focus during this summit will be to secure additional supplies of North Korean artillery and other ammunition. This strategic move aligns with Russia’s efforts to defuse the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

In return, Kim may seek vital resources for North Korea, including energy and food aid. Moreover, he may explore opportunities for advanced technology, including satellites and nuclear-powered submarines. These advancements could potentially heighten the threat posed by North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.

The Uncertainty of Technology Sharing

While these negotiations hold significant implications, some analysts are skeptical about Russia’s willingness to share closely guarded weapons technology in exchange for limited supplies of artillery shells and other munitions. Prof. Leif-Eric Easley, a North Korea specialist at Ewha University in Seoul, expressed doubts, stating, “Putin is unlikely to provide Kim with technology to miniaturize nuclear devices or propel nuclear-powered submarines because even a desperate war machine does not trade its military crown jewels for old munitions.”

Concerns About Prolonged Conflict

The potential acquisition of quantities of North Korean artillery shells and antitank missiles raises concerns in the United States about the prospect of a protracted conflict in Ukraine. White House national security council spokesperson Adrienne Watson expressed concerns and urged North Korea to abide by its public commitments not to provide or sell arms to Russia.

US Warnings and International Stance

On Monday, the US State Department characterized Putin’s actions as a sign of desperation regarding the Ukraine conflict. The department renewed warnings that any arms deal between North Korea and Russia could trigger US sanctions. State department spokesperson Matthew Miller remarked, “Having to travel across the length of his own country to meet with an international pariah to ask for assistance in a war that he expected to win in the opening month, I would characterize it as him begging for assistance.” He emphasized that any transfer of arms from North Korea to Russia would be in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.

In this high-stakes diplomatic endeavor, the world watches closely, as the outcomes of this summit could have far-reaching consequences for regional stability and global security.

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