Russia and North Korea strengthen ties as they face global isolation

Russia and North Korea strengthen ties as they face global isolation
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un greets health workers and scientists struggling with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic during a photo session in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this undated photo released on August 10, 2022 by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS

Historically, Russia and North Korea have gotten along. In fact, the Soviet Union was the first to recognize North Korea as having authority over the entirety of Korea and supported North Korea during the Korean War. Fast forward, and North Korea has shown support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It also rejected the UN’s proposal to remove Russia from the international Human Rights Council (which eventually passed after the Russian army was accused of war crimes in Ukraine), and it recognizes the independence of eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region, which is currently occupied by Russian forces.

According to KCNA, North Korea’s state-sponsored media, North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un exchanged messages with Putin yesterday. August 15 is also a holiday celebrated in all of Korea to mark the anniversary of the peninsula’s liberation from Japanese imperial rule. Putin’s message to Kim reportedly appealed for stronger ties between the nations, expanding “bilateral relations.” And Kim’s response confirmed the Russian-Korean friendship and predicted growing cooperation between the two against “hostile forces” (read: the US and its allies). But, with the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict and North Korea’s controversial nuclear program, how this continued support could pan out is a little uncertain.

Key comments:

“The strategic and tactical cooperation, support, and solidarity between the two countries have put on a new high stage in the common front for frustrating the hostile forces’ military threat and provocation, and high-handed and arbitrary practices,” Kim wrote, according to state news outlets.

“[Putin’s message] expressed the will to continue to expand the comprehensive and constructive bilateral relations with common efforts, adding that this would entirely conform with the interests of the peoples of the two countries and contribute to strengthening the security and stability of the Korean peninsula and the whole of the Northeastern Asian region,” wrote Rodong Sinmun, a North Korean newspaper.

“Both of these leaders face isolation in the international community. For Kim Jong Un, it has of course been longstanding. For Vladimir Putin, it’s been far more recent. But no less consequential. There does seem an almost inevitability about the two leaders drawing closer,” said Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from the South Korean capital, Seoul.