It is impossible to think of a more suitable place for a meeting between the leaders of Russia and North Korea than the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Amur Region. First, somewhere nearby in the village of Vyatskoye, Khabarovsk Krai, the father of the current North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, was born, and from here his grandfather Kim Il Sung began the long road to the formation of the DPRK and his ruling dynasty. Second, the spaceport is within «walking distance» of Kim Jong Un’s special train, on which he prefers to travel for greater comfort and safety, avoiding airplanes. Third, Vladimir Putin didn’t have to travel far after attending the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. Well, most likely, the Russian side was hospitable to the Korean guest, who is very, very interested in space technology.
The fact is that after 70 years at war with the United States (and its allies in the south of the Korean Peninsula), the DPRK had no choice but to create its own nuclear weapons and means of their delivery. Those who believe that Pyongyang was maniacally eager to possess a nuclear bomb are fundamentally mistaken or ignorant of the background. It is simply the only way to defend oneself when large-scale maneuvers are regularly held on your borders two or three times a year under the auspices of the United States and American strategic bombers practice bombing drills and missile launches using simulated nuclear devices. And Washington makes no secret of the fact that the «conditional enemy» of these offensive exercises is North Korea. North Korea, like Russia, has been repeatedly deceived by Western negotiators who made many promises but never fulfilled them, most recently during the presidency of Donald Trump. Technically, South Korea and the US are at war with the DPRK because Washington refuses to conclude a peace treaty and guarantee security. And the reason is that the US and the Western world in principle did not and is not going to negotiate with North Korea, and prefer to eliminate it. Like it happened with Iraq and Libya. But now with regard to the DPRK, it is a very risky business.
So, the North Koreans now have bombs and missiles. But they need to be improved, their guidance technologies need to be updated, they need to have warning systems for enemy attacks, and so on. To do all this without space is extremely difficult or impossible. Since 1998, Pyongyang has attempted about 6 satellite launches into Earth orbit. According to Western sources, only two of them reached the target. The last two attempts to put into orbit ended unsuccessfully. A third launch is scheduled for October.
Kim Jong Un’s interest here is obvious and understandable; he personally and enthusiastically participates in North Korean rocket launches and knows the business.
Even a trip to a modern spaceport is a great gift for the DPRK leader and his entourage. It seems that Korean specialists will study their impressions in detail. And maybe Russia will help not only with the launch into orbit, but also with other space technologies? At least peaceful space is not directly prohibited by UN Security Council resolutions. Although it’s all a matter of interpretation. President Putin was quite blunt on this topic: «That is why we came here. The DPRK leader is very interested in rocket technology, and they are also trying to develop space.»
By the way, the last successful North Korean satellite launch in 2016 was condemned by Russia, as well as by Western countries. «Pyongyang has not heeded the appeals of the international community, once again demonstrating a defiant disregard for the norms of international law», read a message posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website seven years ago. The reaction to the latest (failed) attempt to launch the satellite was quite different. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said: «When the United States conducts large-scale exercises together with the South Koreans and Japanese, there is no reaction. There is an escalation: step by step, the Americans deploy weapons and conduct large-scale exercises. The North Koreans are forced to react».
Despite the fact that the whole world was shown numerous footage of the North Korean leader’s stay on Russian soil, there are no specifics about the essence of the talks, and even less about the agreements, and most likely there will be none. Although only the conversation at the highest level lasted about 5 hours, they must have agreed on something. But here we have to guess more, and Westerners have to use special methods of information extraction. This way both Russians and Koreans will be calmer, let the other side worry. However, judging by the fact that Kim Jong Un’s forthcoming visit was first publicly announced by the Americans in detail, there are plenty of talkers in the relevant ministries.
Well, while there is no confirmation about the essence of the Russian-North Korean agreements, the West is already particularly concerned about deliveries of North Korean military equipment and ammunition to the special military operation zone. If so, this does honor to the North Korean regime. We will not comment on the possibility of such an option (for now it is guessing on the coffee grounds), but will refer to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. On the sidelines of the talks, he said that the two countries have their hands free. The West, he said, was the first to violate all possible contractual obligations by sending Kiev «a huge amount of Soviet and Russian military equipment». «This is a flagrant violation of end-use certificates, according to which without the seller’s consent these weapons cannot be sent anywhere», Lavrov said. One can only add that the DPRK has quite serious conventional weapons of its own, including missile and artillery weapons, which it produces in large quantities, but it is hard to imagine that the Russian military-industrial complex could not produce everything that is needed.
It seems that it would be much more interesting for Russia to establish a strategic dialog rather than short-term cooperation, although even that is useful at the current meager level of mutual trade. And it is even possible to create some kind of military alliance (with China’s participation) to counterbalance the ever-increasing military threat in the Asia-Pacific region from the United States and its allies, including Japan and South Korea.
Let us recall that on August 18, a summit was held in the U.S. Camp David, where the creation of a de facto military alliance directed against these countries was discussed. In addition, NATO is expanding its area of responsibility to this region of the world. And in accordance with the Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighborliness and Cooperation with the DPRK, Russia promised to consult with each other in case of common threats and changes in the situation in the Asia-Pacific region that affect the security interests. Surely such a discussion has taken place or will take place in the near future. The statement by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who did not rule out joint military maneuvers with the DPRK (possibly with the participation of China), also points to movement in this direction.
It should not be forgotten that North Korea is one of the few countries in the world that fully (including in the international arena) supports Russia’s actions in Ukraine. On this occasion, Kim Jong Un said that «Russia has now risen to the sacred struggle to defend its state sovereignty and its security in the fight against the hegemonic forces that oppose Russia». And he added that the DPRK supports all decisions of the Russian president and will be with Russia «in the fight against imperialism».
In general, Russia and the DPRK have sufficient experience of cooperation and exchanges, though far from being fully realized. When in 2016 the author of this article interviewed Kim Hyun-joon, Ambassador of the DPRK to Russia, the headline included the North Korean’s words: «Sanctions are the most primitive and sinister form of international politics.» Then the representative of the country, which has been under brutal sanctions pressure for more than 50 years, lambasted the citizens of Russia (which by that time had already experienced restrictions, but not fully) for the fact that Russia voted in the UN Security Council in favor of the sanctions and complied with them. This led to an almost complete curtailment of Russian-North Korean economic and humanitarian ties. In 2021, the volume of trade turnover (if it can be called that) fell to $45,000. A year earlier, according to the Federal Customs Service of Russia, the volume of Russian-North Korean trade turnover amounted to $42.74 million, including Russian exports — $42.03 million. At the same time, all these years China did not really look back on the sanctions against the DPRK. To be more precise, Beijing gave lip service to them, but in fact provided about 90 percent of DPRK’s foreign trade. Now, perhaps, it is time for Russia to reconsider its approach.
Leaving aside military-technical cooperation, the DPRK has a lot of things of interest to Russia. This includes light industry products, machine tools (since machine tool industry has been destroyed in Russia for many years, while they have been developing it), traditional medicine, and other goods. Russia in the pre-sanctions period successfully attracted North Korean workers, including builders and loggers. Now, North Korean IT specialists are also famous in the world. Under all kinds of restrictions, Russia could take advantage of the DPRK’s tourism opportunities. And the intensification of economic cooperation alone will contribute to the strengthening of the DPRK’s potential. This is also beneficial for Russia.
But the DPRK leader has already achieved results with his visit. Previously, the Russian media, which were telling tall tales about the DPRK and Kim Jong Un at the West’s suggestion, write about him and his country only in a positive tone. And the fact that Kim Jr. is not accused of killing his closest subordinates with anti-aircraft guns and flamethrowers, and his country is not called a «concentration camp», gives some hope that Russia will finally move away from unnecessary formalities and tired clichés about North Korea and will proceed from its national interests.
Finally, it should be realized that statements such as «the North Korean regime is insane and therefore dangerous» are just elements of information warfare. So far, the Koreans are sitting quietly behind the 38th parallel with their Juche ideas and they are not disturbing anyone. Or maybe it was Kim Jong Il who bombed Belgrade? Or is it Kim Jong Un who decides for the whole world where there is democracy and where it is necessary to establish it?