Game Changer: Russia Signs Mutual Defense Treaty With North Korea

CREDIT: Office of the President of Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean honcho Kim Jong Un signed a wide-ranging agreement Wednesday in which they pledged to come to each other's assistance in case of "aggression." The signing took place as Vladimir Putin visited North Korea for the first time in 24 years.


It's impressive, but I can guarantee that Putin will get an equally impressive welcome at The Hague.

The agreement's details are unknown, but representatives of Putin and Kim described it as covering "security, trade, investment and cultural and humanitarian ties." 

“It is really a breakthrough document,” Putin said at a press conference in the North Korean capital, adding that it provided, “among other things, for mutual assistance in case of aggression against one of the parties to this treaty,” Russian news agencies reported.

Kim called the deal the “strongest ever treaty” signed between the countries and brings their relations to the level of an alliance, and would facilitate cooperation in various areas including politics, economy, culture and military.

This visit by Putin and the security agreement marks another milestone in the increasingly close relationship between Moscow and Pyongyang brought on by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

In early September, word leaked out that Russia was starting to buy artillery ammunition from North Korea (Russia Buying Artillery Ammunition From North Korea Was Not on My Bingo Card). Later that month, Putin trundled out to Vladivostok, or whatever the Chinese are calling it this week, to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un (Putin's War, Week 81 ). Rumor had it that North Korea was providing artillery as well as artillery ammunition.


BACKGROUND: Putin's War, Week 91. Mud and Snow Beats Fire and Steel, and Tumbleweeds Are Blowing Through Sevastopol – RedState

Unlike the 1961 Soviet-DPRK defense pact, in which Russia clearly guaranteed North Korea's security, this one made Russia and North Korea equal partners. Russia needs weapons and ammunition for its war. North Korea needs access to Russian missile and nuclear technology. 

“I think the fact that Putin has to come all the way to North Korea to pay his respects underscores how desperate he is for the ammunition he needs from North Korea,” McFaul said. “That is a giant reversal from 10 to 20 years ago when Putin was the powerful one. Now he needs weapons, and he needs Kim Jong Un, and he needs weapons for his war in Ukraine.”

If anything, the North Koreans are the senior partner in the agreement. In March, Russia blocked the renewal of a UN panel charged with monitoring arms control sanctions on North Korea.

Russia on Thursday vetoed the annual renewal of a panel of experts monitoring enforcement of longstanding United Nations sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.


The mandate for the current panel of experts will expire on April 30. The panel's most recent report was made public earlier this month and said it was investigating dozens of suspected cyberattacks by North Korea that raked in $3 billion to help it further develop its nuclear weapons program.

"The panel, through its work to expose sanctions non-compliance, was an inconvenience for Russia," said Britain's U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward. "But let me be clear to Russia, the sanctions regime remains in place and the UK remains committed to holding DPRK to account for its compliance."


On the whole, this agreement does nothing to change the balance of power anywhere. North Korea is in no danger of attack from South Korea. If war did break out, South Korea could handle North Korea, and any forces Russia might be able to stick into the mix. What it does reflect is the decline of Russia's power. By treating North Korea as an equal, Russia is sliding down the geopolitical version of the socioeconomic ladder. A former client state is now its peer. Everyone will notice that China has had no such change in its relationship with North Korea. This accentuates the change in Russia's status from a Chinese ally to a Chinese junior partner, if not a client state. It also cements Putin's legacy of reducing Russia to international pariah status. Its allies are now North Korea, Iran, and the like. 



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