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Kim Jong Un vows to bolster Russian ties, testing Biden’s strategy

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin, April 25, 2019. (Kremlin/Released)
October 21, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has signaled the “new era” of North Korea-Russia ties, hinting that his regime will leverage Moscow in addressing complex regional and international issues – a step which could complicate U.S. President Joe Biden’s global security approach amid Washington’s involvement in the conflicts in Ukraine and Israel.

Kim met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Pyongyang Thursday and vowed to “faithfully implement the agreements of the DPRK-Russia summit, and lay a stable foundation for the new era of the DPRK-Russia relations,” North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported on Friday, referring to the abbreviation of the North’s formal name.

At the Party Central Committee headquarters, Kim told Lavrov that his commitment is to prioritize the “well-being of the peoples of both nations and intensively propel the crucial mission of nation-building,” according to the report, indicating that Pyongyang was set to bolster its cooperation with Moscow.

Kim and Lavrov shared “sincere opinions on significant matters of mutual interest, emphasizing the importance for both countries to actively navigate the intricate regional and international landscape,” Rodong Sinmun said, adding the two nations will “collaboratively broaden bilateral relations across all sectors.”

The paper suggested that the proposed tighter cooperation is aimed at building leverage against the U.S. and its regional partners. Broadening bilateral relations between North Korea and Russia, especially in strategic sectors like defense, economy, and technology, may be seen as a move aimed at enhancing their collective bargaining power and operational capabilities against the West. 

It could challenge the effectiveness of the international community’s sanctions regimes on both Pyongyang and Moscow, as well as the U.S. and its allies’ influence in navigating the region’s geopolitical complexities that are compounded by China’s maneuvers. 

Russia is sanctioned for its aggression against Ukraine, while North Korea for its nuclear ambitions. 

Kim and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin met at the symbol of Russian space prowess in Russia’s Far East last month, where they vowed to form an “anti-imperialist united front,” and agreed to boost their comprehensive cooperation, spanning from the economy to military. North Korea frequently labels the U.S. and its allies as “imperialists” when their diplomatic overtures aren’t met favorably.

On Thursday, Lavrov also met with his North Korean counterpart Choe Son-hui, where they agreed to take concrete steps in solidifying the “united front” that their top leaders had agreed to establish in September.

The ministers explored “concrete steps and methods to elevate bilateral relations to better suit the needs of the current era and prevailing circumstances,” Rodong Sinmun said on Friday. This involved actively enhancing ways to speed up bilateral collaboration in diverse areas including “economy, culture, and cutting-edge science and technology via political and diplomatic channels.”

“The two parties engaged in detailed discussions and found common ground on fortifying collaborative efforts on various regional and international matters, including the dynamics on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia,” the media report said.

Deepening North Korea-Russia alliance has the potential to corner Washington, already preoccupied with the wars in Ukraine and Israel, into a more challenging position than it had hoped.

Lavrov also told reporters that Russia is seeking stronger cooperation with North Korea and China to counter the U.S. and its regional allies, as reported by Russian media Tass on Thursday.

“The United States, Japan and South Korea intensifying military activity here and Washington working toward moving strategic infrastructure, including nuclear aspects, here, are of great concern to us and our North Korean friends,” he was quoted as saying, calling the allies’ trilateral cooperation  as “unconstructive” and “dangerous.”

Lavrov said he wants to see regular security discussions with North Korea and China, regarding the Korean Peninsula situation, according to the Tass report.

Cheon Seong-whun, a former security strategy secretary for South Korea’s presidential office, said: “The U.S. seems to be at a crossroads. It appears that the Indo-Pacific strategy seems to have reached its limits.”  

Cheon noted that the strategy, arguably, was aimed at centralizing the U.S. efforts primarily on China through reducing its commitments elsewhere and redirecting its resources in Asia. 

“But the unforeseen events in Europe and the Middle East have already diverted the U.S.’s attention, and now the emergence of a North Korea-Russia alignment in Asia is further complicating matters. It has now become a structural issue.”

The pundit also explained that North Korea, recognizing what he described as a “new Cold War” era, appears to have already shifted its strategic stance, which is apparently less hopeful and reliant on dialogues with the U.S.

“It’s clear that the U.S. and its allies must recalibrate their strategies,” he added.