Makeup of N. Korea’s delegation to Russia suggests arms deal is on horizon

Posted on : 2023-09-13 14:05 KST Modified on : 2023-09-13 17:43 KST
Flanked by key military and arms industry officials, North Korea’s Kim appears ready to join hands with Putin
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks with Russian Environmental Minister Alexander Kozlov in the Russian border city of Khasan on Sept. 12. (courtesy of the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment/AFP/Yonhap)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks with Russian Environmental Minister Alexander Kozlov in the Russian border city of Khasan on Sept. 12. (courtesy of the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment/AFP/Yonhap)

The much-discussed possibility of an arms deal between North Korea and Russia appears to be becoming a reality following reports on Tuesday indicating that the North Korean delegation to Russia includes a large number of Pyongyang’s top military brass as well as key arms industry officials.

Moreover, reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin will discuss the issue of UN sanctions during their summit suggest that they will move forward with a weapons transaction regardless of sanctions from the international community.

The developments add to mounting concern that Russia — a permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC) — will become increasingly brazen in its efforts to neutralize the UNSC’s North Korea sanctions regime.

Experts continue to predict that during the upcoming North Korea-Russia summit, Moscow will receive conventional weapons such as artillery shells for use in its war in Ukraine from Pyongyang, providing in turn advanced military technology for satellites and nuclear-powered submarines.

Following Putin’s Tuesday announcement that he has plans to visit the Vostochny Cosmodrome, analysts are projecting that the leaders of North Korea and Russia will be meeting at the spaceport for their summit. If true, this may be a demonstration of Russia’s intention to transfer relevant technologies to North Korea as the country continues its attempt to launch a military reconnaissance satellite to counter US strategic assets being deployed on the Korean Peninsula, the Vostochny Cosmodrome serving as a symbol of technical cooperation between Pyongyang and Moscow in the field of advanced weapons technology.

Citing Russian sources, Kyodo News reported that, after their summit at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, Kim and Putin will be visiting a factory that manufactures Sukhoi fighters located in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, a city in nearby Khabarovsk Krai with a burgeoning weapons industry. Steel manufacturing, oil refining and shipbuilding are other industries thriving in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, which is home to a shipyard that builds submarines as well. A stop at the city would align with the main purpose of Kim’s visit to Russia — expanding military cooperation between North Korea and Russia.

Figures captured in pictures of North Korea’s delegation to Russia released on Tuesday make obvious the country’s intention to trade weapons with Russia by exchanging artillery shells with advanced military technology. Park Thae-song, who serves as vice chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee, also chairs North Korea’s national space science and technology committee, which was set up to advance the country’s efforts to launch a military reconnaissance satellite into the atmosphere. Kim Myong-sik, the commander of the North Korean navy, is in charge of efforts to develop nuclear-powered submarines, which Pyongyang is hoping to obtain the technology for from Russia. Jo Chun-ryong, the director of the Munitions Industry Department within the WPK, supervises the manufacture of conventional shells, which North Korea can offer to Russia.

Meanwhile, Russia blatantly expressed its intent to trade weapons with North Korea by emphasizing the importance of “the interests of our two countries” as opposed to “warnings from Washington.” On Tuesday, Reuters reported that Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated Russia’s willingness to discuss UNSC sanctions against North Korea.

UNSC Resolution No. 2270, which was unanimously approved in March 2016 following Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test in January of the same year, prohibits all types of weapons transactions with North Korea. The UNSC also bans any and all technical cooperation with North Korea related to intercontinental ballistic missiles, including space launch vehicles.

On Monday, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller stressed that any transfer of arms to or from North Korea would violate UNSC sanctions, and that additional sanctions may be imposed as required. But the remark made by Peskov on the same day seems to indicate that Russia intends to ignore existing sanctions against North Korea or advocate for their easing moving forward.

While Russia, along with China, approved the UNSC’s resolution to sanction North Korea following Pyongyang’s shows of force including nuclear tests from 2016 to 2017, the country has since argued for the lifting of those sanctions.

During a regular press briefing on Tuesday, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lim Soo-suk stated, “Russia and North Korea should remind themselves of prohibitions of weapons transactions and military cooperation imposed by international sanctions including UNSC resolutions.” He continued, “No UN member state should violate UNSC sanctions resolutions against North Korea by illegally trading in arms. Military cooperation with North Korea, which would disrupt peace and stability in the international community, should especially not be realized.”

By Kwon Hyuk-chul, staff reporter

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

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