Putin & Kim: What Happens When Two Pariahs Have Nothing Left To Lose
North Korea lends its full support to Russia's war in Ukraine, and will supply ammunition to Moscow, which in return will help Kim Jong-un with his space ambitions. With the whiff of a Cold War alliance, it shows how two regimes that have become so isolated they multiply the risks for the rest of the world.
There's a feeling of nostalgia watching the meeting between Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the Vostochny cosmodrome in Russia's Far East.
To hear the third descendant of North Korea's communist dynasty tell the Russian president that they were fighting imperialism together recalls a past that seemed long forgotten.
It reminds us of how Joseph Stalin backed the founder of Pyongyang's ruling dynasty, Kim Il Sung, the current leader's grandfather, in his quest to take over Korea. Since succeeding his father 11 years ago, Kim Jong-un has looked to follow the model of his grandfather.
There's no doubt that North Korea's talented propaganda team will make good use of this anti-imperialism remake, even if times and men have changed. Seen from Pyongyang, not so much. But beyond the symbols, which have their importance, this meeting may have tangible consequences.
Not even China
Between two regimes subject to sanctions and with nothing to lose, the terms of trade are easy to understand. Russia needs ammunition for its war in Ukraine, and North Korea, with its Russian-compatible weaponry, has a disproportionately large defense industry. It will be able to supply the ammunition that the Russian army uses in abundance.
In return — and the presence of the two leaders at a cosmodrome makes perfect sense — Russia will help North Korea improve its space capabilities.
An endorsement that hardly any other country has expressed with such gusto
Twice this year, North Korea has failed in its attempt to put its first spy satellite into orbit, and Vladimir Putin was very clear yesterday about the help Moscow can give its young host.
North Korea is also suffering from food shortages, and here too, Russia can barter ammunition for wheat. Win-win, war-economy style.
Is this a new alliance? To hear Kim Jong-un tell it, North Korea fully supports Russia's war in Ukraine, an endorsement that hardly any other country in the world has expressed with such gusto. Even China is more discreet.
With portraits of himself and Stalin, Kim Il Sung (center) leads the joint meeting of the New People's Party and the Workers' Party of North Korea in Pyongyang, August 28, 1946
Nothing left to fear
It has to be said that, subject as they are to U.S.-led sanctions, and even UN sanctions in the case of North Korea, Putin and Kim have nothing left to fear. And for Kim Jong-un, it's a stance that matches the verbal escalation he's been indulging in for more than three years.
Kim had attempted a honeymoon with Donald Trump in 2018-2019, we remember their three meetings; and the failure of this rapprochement despite the American President's enthusiasm. Even Trump had to give up signing an agreement that left Kim at the head of a nuclear power.
The strategy of tension that followed this failure has reached its climax with this active support for Putin — this is bad news, above all, for the Korean peninsula, which is still in a state of tension.
But beware of optical effects — there is no formal alliance as in the days of the USSR, each has its own national agenda, which is not ideological, as it was during the Cold War. Behind yesterday's retro image, there is above all the agreement of two pariahs who can help each other.
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