Russia-North Korea Defense Pact Exposes Secret Military Alliance.

A new defense pact signed between Russia and North Korea this week has openly declared Moscow’s commitment to extensive military cooperation with Pyongyang, a stark contrast to their previous denials, analysts said.

Before Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Pyongyang for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Wednesday, it was widely believed that Moscow was already transferring military technology to Pyongyang for weapons upgrades.

In 2023, North Korea launched the solid-fuel Hwasong-18 missile for the first time. Experts, after analyzing the shape and color of the smoke at the missile’s tail, indicated that these technologies likely originated from Russia.

Simultaneously, U.S. and other officials have accused North Korea of supplying Russia with large quantities of conventional munitions for its war in Ukraine.

In September, during his tour of Russia’s satellite launch site, fighter jet factory, and Pacific Fleet equipped with nuclear-capable bombers and hypersonic missiles, Kim Jong Un showed a keen interest in various military assets.

Both Russia and North Korea had denied any arms dealings between them prior to Putin’s visit to Pyongyang.

The specific types of military technology Moscow might provide to Pyongyang remain uncertain.

However, at the summit, Moscow clearly expressed its willingness to bolster Pyongyang’s military in exchange for a continued supply of munitions for use against Ukraine, according to Bruce Bechtol Jr., a former intelligence officer at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and now a professor at Angelo State University in Texas.

In the Treaty of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership signed by Putin and Kim during their summit, the two leaders agreed to establish “mechanisms” for implementing “measures” to “strengthen defense capabilities.”

They also agreed to collaborate in science and technology, including space exploration.

At a joint press conference following their summit, Putin stated that Moscow “does not rule out developing military and technical cooperation” with Pyongyang as outlined in the pact. This stance is a response to the U.S. and other NATO countries supplying weapons to Ukraine, which have been used against targets inside Russia.

Kim and Putin further agreed in the treaty to intervene militarily if either North Korea or Russia is invaded. However, according to Bechtol, the most significant aspect of the treaty is “military cooperation.”

“We’re not going to invade North Korea or Russia. It’s all about the military cooperation and arms deals,” he said. These deals “have no limits” and will be conducted in a “barter” format rather than a “cash and carry” arrangement.

Any arms exports or imports by North Korea would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions.

 

Putin’s proposal for trade involves fostering extensive military cooperation and arms deals with North Korea.

Ahead of his visit to Pyongyang, an article by Putin published in North Korea’s state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Tuesday outlined plans for Russia and North Korea to establish a trade and payment system independent of Western control. This move aims to facilitate circumvention of international sanctions imposed on both nations.

Joshua Stanton, a Washington-based attorney involved in drafting the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enforcement Act of 2016, noted, “Russia and North Korea have discussed establishing ruble-based and renminbi-based payment systems for over a decade.” He added, “Previous attempts failed, likely violating U.N. sanctions, and could face secondary sanctions from our Treasury Department if banks facilitate such transactions.”

David Maxwell, vice president of the Center for Asia Pacific Strategy, suggested that Moscow and Pyongyang might utilize railways instead of sea routes for exchanging military equipment to evade potential interdiction efforts. Discussions on interdiction could arise during the sidelines of a NATO summit in July, involving Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo.

During a press conference in Pyongyang this week, Putin announced that Russian Railways will be involved in upgrading the Khasan-Rajin railway crossing between Russia and North Korea.

Intense dedication

Even without the treaty, military cooperation — including arms transfers from Russia to North Korea — was expected to continue, according to Bechtol and other analysts.

“I don’t believe the treaty itself will have a major impact,” said Michael Kimmage, who served on the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff at the U.S. State Department from 2014 to 2016, focusing on the Russia-Ukraine portfolio.

“It signals a strong and enduring commitment, which is significant in itself,” he explained, “but I don’t see the treaty as a dramatic turning point.”

Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, remarked, “It’s hard to see how this new agreement would facilitate Russia’s transfer of military technology to North Korea, given recent transfers of Iskander missile technology, satellite launcher components, GPS jammers, and precision guidance systems.”

He added, “Ultimately, the key factor isn’t the feasibility of transferring weapons technology but Russia’s political willingness to do so.”

Putin’s vocal support for military cooperation with Pyongyang has raised serious concerns in Seoul and Washington.

A senior South Korean presidential official stated on Thursday that Seoul is now considering sending arms directly to Ukraine, a significant shift as Seoul had refrained from providing lethal weapons since Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

A spokesperson for the South Korean foreign ministry expressed grave concern to VOA’s Korean Service on Thursday regarding the treaty and the announced military technology cooperation, which directly contravenes U.N. Security Council resolutions.

A spokesperson from the State Department conveyed to VOA Korean on Wednesday that the deepening cooperation between Russia and the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) is a troubling trend.

In contrast, Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, told VOA on Thursday that Moscow and Pyongyang have a legitimate need for exchanges, cooperation, and closer relations.

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