Russia and North Korea: what can they do for each other?

Last Updated: June 23, 2024By

Russia’s Growing Influence on North Korea


A New Player on the Scene

China has long been North Korea’s main partner, providing essential trade and support. However, the country’s dynamics are shifting with Vladimir Putin’s impending visit to Pyongyang, highlighting Russia’s increasing influence on its isolated neighbor.


Fueling North Korea’s Economy

Apart from China, Russia has also been accused of aiding North Korea in circumventing UN sanctions. Recent reports suggest Russia has been supplying refined petroleum to North Korea, potentially exceeding the UN-set limits. This support, facilitated by their close proximity and shared borders, has been crucial for North Korea amidst pandemic-induced trade restrictions.


Strategic Meetings and Mutual Benefits

When Kim Jong-un meets with Putin, discussions typically extend beyond mere diplomacy. Russia has reportedly supplied food and energy to North Korea, alleviating shortages that have plagued the nation. Their relationship even extends to symbolic gestures like restarting train services and sharing unique exports, such as thoroughbred horses.


Military Ties and Economic Gains

Despite North Korea’s economic struggles, it holds a valuable asset: military hardware. This commodity has fostered a budding alliance between Putin and Kim, with reported exchanges involving technological expertise for North Korea’s space program in exchange for military equipment. While these claims have been denied by the Kremlin, evidence suggests North Korean weapons may have found their way to conflict zones like Ukraine.


Economic Exploitation and Political Maneuvering

Beyond weaponry, North Korea’s labor force represents another form of economic exchange. Thousands of North Korean workers are deployed overseas, including in Russia, generating crucial foreign currency for Pyongyang. Despite international mandates, Russia has been reluctant to repatriate these workers, complicating global efforts to enforce sanctions against North Korea.


A Disruptive Force in Global Diplomacy

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia’s stance on North Korea has complicated efforts to enforce and strengthen sanctions. Alongside China, Russia has vetoed measures aimed at sanctioning North Korea for its ballistic missile activities, revealing fractures within the council’s unity on this critical issue.


In conclusion, Russia’s emerging role in North Korea underscores a complex web of economic support, military collaboration, and geopolitical maneuvering. As the region continues to evolve, these dynamics will undoubtedly shape the future landscape of East Asian diplomacy and international relations.


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