Reassessing North Korea’s Diplomatic Move: A Closer Look at its Rapprochement with Russia

The deepening ties between Moscow and Pyongyang are stimulating apprehension among Western analysts. The recent meeting in Pyongyang of North Korea’s allies at the time of the Korean War, and the country’s development of long-range weapons capable of reaching targets in East Asia as well as the United States, has generated uncertainties about the state of regional security and the susceptibility of economic interdependence. A reassessment of North Korea’s increased stance towards a rapprochement with Russia is integral to comprehend the changing dynamics of global security and the politics of block formation.


Delving into contemporary development, the presence of high-ranked defense minister Sergei Shoigu amid the ongoing conflict in eastern Europe, coincided with the North Korean leadership’s current posture. The Kremlin’s assurance of consolidating military ties with North Korea while praising the country’s military capabilities is perceived as an offensive stance. This is indicative of improvement in Russia-North Korea relations; there have been more discussions about expanding economic ties and prospective infrastructure projects, as well as conducting more diplomatic exchanges. Since their veritable rupture in the early and mid-1990s, relations between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Russia had generally been of secondary importance for both nations, but in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Moscow-Pyongyang relations began to gain momentum.


The Strategic Weapons Expo 2023 of banned nuclear-capable missiles and ICBMs holds remarkable significance. Showing off nuclear-capable missiles may be an attempt by states to establish the legitimacy of their goals and capabilities, especially if they have a history of issuing threats or acting provocatively. North Korea regularly displays its most advanced weapons at significant points in its history. Particular weaponry that might be on show is the Hwasong-18 ICBM, a solid-fueled, nuclear-capable missile that North Korea claims could hit targets anywhere in the United States. Two times this year, and most recently earlier this month, it has tested the missile. The coming together of the two states’ military leadership signals the collective efforts to assert balancing against a common rival, the West.


Due to the Kremlin’s post-2022 diplomatic and economic isolation from a large portion of the world, Pyongyang has an opportunity to use its relations with Russia as leverage to demand an end to its own diplomatic and economic isolation. Russia can counterbalance US dominance in Asia by deepening its ties with the DPRK. There is China-Russia-North Korea triad, whereby China and Russia are countering US cooperation with South Korea and Japan on North Korea. As per US intelligence reports, North Korea, owing to the sanctions, has been facing an insufficient flow of food and medicines, while Moscow is looking for the uninterrupted supply chain of ammunitions from the DPRK to sustain the arms struggle in the Ukraine.


The strengthening relationship between Russia and North Korea is marked by the high-level diplomatic visits and meetings, particularly those pertaining to defense and nuclear issues. Russian has showed its commitment by abstaining in the UN Security Council votes on sanctions against North Korea. Moreover, increased economic cooperation and trade also indicate fulfilling the necessity of transactional relations. For Russia, deepening ties with North Korea can present economic opportunities, such as access to North Korea’s natural resources and potential investment prospects. This is in addition to the prospects for strengthening ties in the domain of security and military cooperation. A closer alignment with Russia can serve as a means for North Korea to counterbalance the influence of the United States in the region. It may be part of a broader strategy to assert its sovereignty and resist perceived US pressure.


For North Korea, the strengthening of relations with Russia might also be seen as an effort to wean North Korea off of its reliance on China, which has provided North Korea with a great deal of financial and diplomatic assistance over the years.  North Korea may be able to reduce reliance on China and acquire more independence in its foreign policy by fortifying the relationship with Russia.


Pyongyang’s isolationist stance has largely remained the core obstacle in bringing all parties on a single page. Resuming negotiations has become even harder by its self-imposed exclusion and resistance to diplomatic communication. Henceforth, the country appears to be aiming toward obtaining economic benefits from closer ties with Russia, a country whose economy has managed to stay afloat despite heavy Western sanctions.


Referring to the historical evidences, the antagonism in bilateral relations between the United States and DPRK dates back many years. There have been constraints due to the alternating leadership in both countries and the dearth of direct avenues of communication. With the labeling of North Korea as a ‘rogue state’, the international community is reluctant to approve the North Korean nuclear program, and it has imposed various sanctions to pressurize it to abandon the latter. North Korea, in turn, demands significant sanctions relief as a precondition for talks, creating a deadlock in negotiations. The US and East Asian states have been showing concern about North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities. There is a similar critique of Western policymakers on the Russia-North Korea rapprochement, especially amid the Ukraine crisis.


On top of that, the upcoming trilateral security summit which is scheduled between the US, South Korea and Japan might further strengthen their coalition against the Western block. In light of such developments, there is increased likelihood of the emergence of more entrenched strategic alignments. There is a need for a multilateral framework involving all the stakeholders to address the rampant and complex block politics. The principal objective underlying this strategy would be to facilitate further talks. For the purpose of regional stability and global peace, both the Western and Eastern stakeholders ought to collaborate to bring a cessation of North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests in exchange for a cessation of large-scale military drills by the United States and South Korea. In a nutshell, both these non-western countries are making absolute efforts to consolidate their ties. This is precisely the consequence of relentless western sanctions on these states. In order to tackle the common threat, both states will continue to engage in strengthening their economic and diplomatic ties.


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