Will Putin’s anticipated visit to North Korea resurrect a military alliance?

Posted on : 2024-01-22 16:58 KST Modified on : 2024-01-22 16:58 KST
If Putin’s visit to North Korea comes to pass, as has been hinted at in comments from both sides, it will be his first in 24 years
Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in an end-of-year town hall in Moscow on Dec. 14, 2023. (Reuters/Yonhap)
Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in an end-of-year town hall in Moscow on Dec. 14, 2023. (Reuters/Yonhap)

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his intent to visit North Korea in the near future, while Pyongyang is prepared to welcome him when he does, the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Sunday.

If Putin’s visit comes to pass, it will be his first in 24 years since a Pyongyang summit with then-leader Kim Jong-il on July 19, 2000. With Russia preparing for a presidential election on March 17, analysts are predicting his visit will come at a “suitable time” afterward.

The US government expressed concerns about the sudden closeness between North Korea and Russia.

On Sunday, the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a press release in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper on the outcome of Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son-hui’s recent official visit to Russia on Jan. 15–17.

“Comrade President Putin expressed deep thanks once again for the invitation of Comrade Kim Jong Un, President of the State Affairs, to visit Pyongyang at a convenient time and expressed his willingness to visit the DPRK at an early date,” the press release said.

It went on to say that the North Korean government was “ready to greet the Korean people’s closest friend with the greatest sincerity,” referring to Putin.

Pyongyang and Moscow have been holding working-level discussions since a summit last September at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East, where they reached a general agreement that Putin would visit North Korea at some point.

A foreign affairs source well acquainted with the situation between North Korea and Russia said Putin “is expected to visit not too long after the [Russian] presidential election in March,” adding that his visit “could have a considerable impact on the political situations on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia.”


Russian President Vladimir Putin greets North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui following the latter’s arrival at the Kremlin in Moscow on Jan. 16. (AP/Yonhap)
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui following the latter’s arrival at the Kremlin in Moscow on Jan. 16. (AP/Yonhap)


The North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release said during Choe’s visit to Russia, the two sides “recognized that the friendly and cooperative relations between the DPRK and the Russian Federation [. . . ] serve as a powerful strategic fortress and a traction engine in defending international peace and security and promoting the building of a multi-polarized world.”

“They also reached a consensus and satisfactory agreement in the discussion of practical issues of putting the bilateral relations on a new legal basis in the direction of strategic development and expanding and developing them in an all-round way,” it continued.

It also said the two sides’ relationship would “steadily develop into the invincible comradely relations and the eternal strategic relations.”

The reference to a “new legal basis” raised the possibility that the two sides have discussed potentially amending their bilateral treaty.

North Korea and Russia signed a treaty of friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance in 1961. In 2000, they signed a new treaty of friendship, good neighborliness, and cooperation, which reflected changes in the political situation with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the establishment of diplomatic ties between South Korea and Russia. At the time, a provision on “automatic military involvement in the event of an emergency” was reportedly stricken.

Based on the recent trend toward increased closeness between Pyongyang and Moscow and the reference to “eternal strategic relations,” observers are speculating that the two sides may be discussing increased cooperation in military and other areas.

Indeed, North Korea and Russia have grown rapidly closer through mutual senior-level visits in recent months. A visit by a Russian military delegation on July 25–27 was followed by Kim Jong-un’s visit to Russia on Sept. 12–17 for a bilateral summit, a North Korean visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Oct. 18–19, a meeting of an intergovernmental commission on trade and economics in Pyongyang on Nov. 15, a North Korea visit by a Primorsky Krai government delegation on Dec. 11–15, and Choe’s visit this year.

Analysts suggested that Pyongyang and Russia — which had been on somewhat strained terms since Russia’s establishment of diplomatic relations with South Korea on Sept. 30, 1990 — might be not merely normalizing relations but moving toward the reestablishment of a military alliance.

Meanwhile, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said during a press conference Friday (local time) that when it comes to the harsher language being employed by Kim Jong-un, countries “have to take rhetoric like that seriously from a man in charge of a regime that continues to pursue advanced military capabilities, including nuclear capabilities.” 

Kirby also called the “burgeoning relationship” between the North and Russia “certainly worrisome.”

By Lee Je-hun, senior staff writer

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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