Kim Jong Un and Putin Meet in Summit

The leaders discussed cooperating in defense, science, technology and infrastructure efforts. 

By Jack Pluth, Guest Writer

Less than a week ago, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met Russian President Vladimir Putin in a publicized meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome facility in eastern Russia. The two reportedly met to discuss current and future cooperation between their nations, the most pertinent being the supply of military equipment from North Korea to Russia in the latter’s efforts to invade Ukraine.

The meeting signals a potential era of new bilateral relations between Moscow and Pyongyang as the two isolated leaders met during their own times of need. By the meeting’s conclusion, where Kim also visited the Komsomolsk-on-Amur aircraft manufacturing facility and naval facilities in eastern Russia, experts noted that the potential for a large-scale North Korea-Russia deal was not abundantly clear, but that cooperation on other issues was prevalent. 

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Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin met in a multi-day summit in eastern Russia last week. While the two leaders did not disclose specific actions, they laid the grounds for cooperation in defense, infrastructure and technology.

However, Putin sounded optimistic about the results of the summit, citing agreed cooperation on highways, railways, agricultural initiatives and port infrastructure — and potentially in military efforts. North Korea also pledged their “full support” of Russia following the meeting.

“(From the summit), Russia will gain access to large supplies of weapons to replenish its exhausted stocks for the war in Ukraine. North Korea will gain cash, fuel and foodstuffs, but the long-term advantages are not as clear,” Father James McCann, S.J., a Jesuit scholar at Xavier and international politics expert, said.

“Both North Korea and Russia find they have much to gain from renewing their bilateral ties,” he added. 

With such a large depletion of manpower and material, Putin’s meeting with Kim  comes as no surprise to international observers, yet caution is given to assumptions that the two nations are entirely aligned now.  

North Korea’s eminent interest in Russia’s prominent space launch capability was compounded by the recent visit to the Vostochny Cosmodrome in eastern Russia by their combined heads of state. This year, two launches of North Korea’s Cholima-1 rocket have tried and failed to orbit a domestic military satellite for their nation. Russia’s launch vehicle, the Soyuz-2 family, or sophisticated satellite technology, which could eventually allow North Korea to establish serious space observation capabilities.

“Some basic science will be shared, but not more sophisticated developments in space surveillance and advanced nuclear expertise,” McCann said, indicating that this partnership is largely one of shared interest, but not necessarily a pledge of loyalty due to political consequences.

The toll on the Russian military has been immense in Ukraine. American intelligence has stated that as many as 120,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in action over the past two years of fighting, with many of them declared missing in action by their government. 

Confirmed visual losses of Russian armored vehicle losses have set a minimum of 2,187 tanks being either destroyed, captured or abandoned as of mid-September 2023, forcing the country to utilize refurbished armored vehicles designed and built in the 1940s, leading Putin to meet with Kim on defense cooperation. 

The union of North Korean and Russian military efforts was not entirely unexpected. Both nations harbor grudges against Western-aligned powers and have spent the past several decades posturing over potential conflicts with them. 

They also sought to tie relations in order to counter increased Western nations deepening their relations with Ukraine and other nations in the Asian sphere, which some Western nations have worried can lead to new power changes in Asia.