According to the official North Korean news agency CTAK, from January 15 to 18 this year, the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan held another large-scale military maneuvers near the DPRK’s borders. In particular, the US nuclear aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, the cruiser Princeton equipped with the Aegis multifunctional combat system, as well as numerous ships of Japan Maritime Self Defense Force and the Republic of Korea Navy took part in them.
Such maneuvers are not new; they are conducted near the DPRK’s borders on a regular basis, threatening the country’s security. Pyongyang sees these military games near its borders as a prelude to the beginning of a full-scale aggression against the DPRK. It is no coincidence that, going towards the American side during negotiations with former President Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un first of all demanded the ending of these maneuvers as the most dangerous and provocative. Some promises were made, but the Biden administration easily torpedoed them, once again deceiving Pyongyang.
In general, the escalation of tension and complete disregard for the DPRK’s concerns on the part of the Republic of Korea and its handlers reached a new level when President Yoon Suk Yeol came to power in South Korea in May 2022. He set a course to completely abandon the policies of the previous Moon Jae-in administration, which had tried to find ways to normalize relations with the northern neighbor. Yoon Suk Yeol abandoned the existing agreements with the North Koreans and toughened his policy toward Pyongyang, focusing on strengthening military-political ties with the United States and, later, within the Seoul-Washington-Tokyo triangle. In the meantime, Seoul has done much to make Pyongyang finally disbelieve in the possibility of constructive and effective inter-Korean dialog and respond to Seoul with the same tougher approach.
In December 2023, at the final plenum of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Kim Jong Un outlined a change in approaches to inter-Korean dialog. In particular, it was a question of legally recognizing the impossibility of unification with the South and enshrining in the constitution the role of the Republic of Korea as the main enemy of the DPRK. «In the event of war on the Korean Peninsula, it is important to consider the issue of complete occupation, suppression, return of the Republic of Korea and subjugation of its territory», Kim Jong Un said. Thus, Pyongyang is essentially abandoning the idea of unification as such and is moving to consolidate for a peaceful period the status quo with the existence of two Korean states.
Pyongyang has moved from words to deeds. The structures involved in promoting inter-Korean relations, i.e., the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, the National Economic Cooperation Bureau, the United Front Department of the Central Committee, which oversaw relations with the South, and the Kumgangsan International Tourism Office, were dismantled.
Inter-Korean communication channels also appear to have been disrupted. In addition, special propaganda radio programs have been discontinued and websites aimed at South Korean audiences have been halted. In a symbolic gesture, the Arch of Reunification, a monument erected in Pyongyang in 2001 to commemorate the 1972 North-South Joint Statement, which contained three basic principles for the unification of the two Koreas, was dismantled.
But far more frightening are the DPRK’s military measures. All taboos on missile tests have been lifted, as a result of which they increased dramatically at the end of last year. In addition, North Korea formalized in its constitution the policy of developing nuclear forces as a guarantor of sovereignty and security. And at the end of last year, the North Korean leader called on the leadership of the army and defense complex to accelerate preparations for war. Last week, Kim Jong Un said that the DPRK would not start a war itself, but if provoked, it would respond immediately and had no intention of avoiding an armed conflict. «If the Republic of Korea invades our territory, airspace and waters even by one thousandth of a millimeter, we will consider it as a provocation starting a war», he threatened Seoul. As a result, analysts in the West concluded that Kim Jong Un had made a strategic decision not to shy away from war.
Along with the deterioration of relations with South Korea, the DPRK is demonstrating its readiness, as the Korean leader put it, «to further strengthen solidarity with countries that oppose the United States and the hegemony of the West». This refers primarily to Russia, where Kim Jong Un paid an official visit in September 2023.
And last week, DPRK Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui visited Moscow. She held extensive talks with Sergey Lavrov, and then both were received by President Putin. On January 16, Sergey Lavrov said that the timing of their meeting «could not be better suited to summarize the preliminary results of the active work that has been started to implement the agreements reached during the September summit between President Putin and DPRK leader Kim Jong Un at the Vostochny Cosmodrome». The DPRK Foreign Minister responded by expressing hope that Pyongyang will succeed in bringing relations with Russia to a new level in the coming year. What such agreements were reached, we do not know. Little is also known about the negotiations between Lavrov and Choe in Moscow. The West believes that North Korea is assisting Russia in its special military operation, and let them think so.
The main event on the track of deepening Russian-North Korean ties next year may be Vladimir Putin’s visit to the DPRK, where he was in 2000.
According to the Russian leader’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin will definitely take advantage of Kim Jong Un’s invitation to visit the DPRK «at a convenient time and by mutual agreement between Moscow and Pyongyang». It is possible that more precise dates were given by the Russian president to Ms. Choe personally.
Meanwhile, in response to the provocative trilateral military maneuvers near the DPRK’s borders, the Institute of Underwater Weapons Systems at the National Defense Academy of the DPRK successfully tested its newest development — the underwater nuclear weapons system «Haeil-5–23». Pyongyang first reported the development of underwater drones «Haeil» in March 2023. The CTAK report said the development had been underway since 2012, and 50 of its various tests took place between October 2021 and March 2023. The publication reported that the new vehicle’s mission is to stealthily penetrate the waters where the enemy fleet is located, and then «by underwater explosion, cause ultra-powerful radioactive waves, destroy groups of ships and the main operating port». Apparently, this is an analog of Russia’s Poseidon system, about which President Putin spoke earlier.
Pyongyang has said that the development and testing of the latest weapons systems, including nuclear ones, will continue. Because this is the only way to protect the country’s sovereignty and guarantee its security.