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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.

photo of putin and kim in front of a red guard rail

Putin and Kim at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia's far eastern Amur region.

Mikhail Metzel/TASS via ZUMA
Pierre Haski


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.

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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.

photo of Kim Il Sung and other communist leaders with pictures of Stalin and Kim behind

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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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Why The U.S. Lost Its Leverage In The Middle East — And May Never Get It Back

In the Israel-Hamas war, Qatar now plays the key role in negotiations, while the United States appears increasingly disengaged. Shifts in the region and beyond require that Washington move quickly or risk ceding influence to China and others for the long term.

Photograph of U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken  shaking hands with sraeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

November 30, 2023, Tel Aviv, Israel: U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken shakes hands with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Chuck Kennedy/U.S State/ZUMA
Sébastien Boussois


PARIS — Upon assuming office in 2008, then-President Barack Obama declared that United States would gradually begin withdrawing from various conflict zones across the globe, initiating a complex process that has had a major impact on the international landscape ever since.

This started with the American departure from Iraq in 2010, and was followed by Donald Trump's presidency, during which the "Make America Great Again" policy redirected attention to America's domestic interests.

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The withdrawal trend resumed under Joe Biden, who ordered the exit of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in 2021. To maintain a foothold in all intricate regions to the east, America requires secure and stable partnerships. The recent struggle in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict demonstrates that Washington increasingly relies on the allied Gulf states for any enduring influence.

Since the collapse of the Camp David Accords in 1999 during Bill Clinton's tenure, Washington has consistently supported Israel without pursuing renewed peace talks that could have led to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

While President Joe Biden's recent challenges in pushing for a Gaza ceasefire met with resistance from an unyielding Benjamin Netanyahu, they also stem from the United States' overall disengagement from the issue over the past two decades. Biden now is seeking to re-engage in the Israel-Palestine matter, yet it is Qatar that is the primary broker for significant negotiations such as the release of hostages in exchange for a ceasefire —a situation the United States lacks the leverage to enforce.

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