Running low on weapons and suffering under economic sanctions, Russia is isolated and apparently desperate. Now, it looks like the Kremlin is turning to another pariah state for help: North Korea.
Reports of an upcoming summit between Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un have U.S. officials on alert. They’re concerned Kim will sell weapons to Putin in exchange for sophisticated military and nuclear technology.
The last high-level meeting of this kind happened in April 2019, when North Korea’s dictator, who very rarely ventures outside his country, took an armored train from Pyongyang to visit Putin in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok.
Experts say the reclusive Kim Jong Un will likely take the same route later this month.
“I think that it comes at the time when Russia is increasingly globally isolated,” said Alexander Gabuev with the Carnegie Moscow Center.
According to new U.S. intelligence, a sanction-strapped Moscow is seeking to buy artillery shells, anti-tank missiles, and rockets from Pyongyang to replenish its stockpile diminished in its war against Ukraine.
“Russia is negotiating potential deals for significant quantities and multiple types of munitions from the DPRK to be used against Ukraine,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. representative to the United Nations.
There’s talk that both countries might even hold joint war games.
“I think it says a lot that Russia is having to turn to a country like North Korea to seek to bolster its defense capacity in a war that it expected would be over in a week,” said National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
Former U.S. Army General and CIA director David Petraeus warns the West needs to heighten its economic pressure against the Kremlin.
“Russia’s obviously desperate for replacement munitions, replacement weapons systems, even microchips and everything else,” Petraeus said during a visit to Kyiv. “We are and should even be doing more, to make sure that the export controls and various sanctions that have been imposed are enforced.”
News of a potential meeting with Kim follows leaked documents released last month that reportedly show Putin reaching out to the Iranians, as well, to help Russia build over 6,000 attack drones for its ongoing war.
“There is no other way to look at that than desperation and weakness,” said National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby.
For his part, Kim Jong Un wants a number of items in return, including sophisticated military hardware with technology that could potentially advance North Korea’s ballistic and nuclear program.
“North Koreans are looking for economic support, fuel, food, sources of cash, anything that can help to keep the regime afloat,” said Gabuev. “Russia seems to be ready to provide that even through violation of the UN sanctions.”
In July, Kim Jong Un opened his country to foreign visitors for the first time since the COVID pandemic and welcomed Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as his first guest.
They attended an arms exhibition in Pyongyang, which included a prominent display of North Korea’s latest Hwasong intercontinental ballistic missile.
“Our information further indicates that following Shoigu’s visit, another group of Russian officials travel to the DPRK for follow-up discussions about potential arms deals between the DPRK and Russia,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
Putin and Kim have since reportedly exchanged letters pledging to increase their bilateral cooperation.