Seoul wary as North Korea seeks to arm Russia in exchange for military tech secrets

According to Pyongyang’s KCNA news agency, Kim also offered “full and unconditional support” to Putin in the war against Ukraine, with Kim and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu discussing the expansion of “strategic and tactical coordination” between the countries’ armed forces.

Analysts say Kim would likely supply ammunition to pad up Russia’s inventory in the second year of its war in Ukraine, in return for Russian technologies to modernise his nuclear arsenal.

But some analysts say Kim would end up just getting food and economic aid, given Russia’s reluctance to share its weapons technologies.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu inspect Russian warplanes in Vladivostok. Photo: AP

Even if Putin continued a “geopolitical theatre” by visiting North Korea, he should be cautious about transferring advanced military technology, said Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha University in Seoul.

“South Korea can sell much better weapons to aid the defence of Ukraine than North Korea’s Cold War-era artillery that can only partially resupply Russia’s invading forces,” he said.

Moscow, a UN Security Council member, was already helping Pyongyang by refusing to implement sanctions on North Korea, he said.

“A team-up of two economically struggling, rule-breaking actors is not a strategy for success,” he said.

What Russia’s purchase of North Korean arms could mean for world security

South Korea could also signal extending sanctions on any Chinese firm that dealt with Russian defence contractors in transferring technology to North Korea, Easley said. Russia and North Korea are necessary partners for China, as significant neighbouring countries, and as balancers against the United States in Beijing’s envisioned multipolar world and Sino-centric Asia.

“For economic reasons, China is much more important to Moscow and Pyongyang than Russia and North Korea are to each other. Putin and Kim’s current gambit might be an effort to exercise strategic options, but Beijing’s financial interests are likely to prove more influential,” he said.

US and South Korean officials have warned that Russia and North Korea would face consequences if they went ahead with such weapon transfer deals in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.


North Korea releases 90-minute documentary on leader Kim Jong-un’s trip to Russia

North Korea releases 90-minute documentary on leader Kim Jong-un’s trip to Russia

But in reality, South Korea lacked coercive measures to punish Russia or the North for their arms trades, political-science professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies said.

“South Korea could step up military exercises with the United States and Japan, tighten its own sanctions on the North’s officials and government agencies, or seek a further isolation of the North at the UN,” he said.

“However, these are basically the same old dishes,” Yang said, stressing that in order to supply weapons to Ukraine or any other warring countries, Seoul would have to obtain approval from an opposition-controlled parliament.

Seoul has a policy against supplying lethal weapons to any place engulfed in war, while Russia has repeatedly warned that Seoul’s ties with Moscow would be jeopardised if the South supplies weapons to Ukraine.

Why North Korea-Russia military ties could become a ‘burden’ for China

South Korean Vice-Foreign Minister Chang Ho-jin this month summoned the Russian ambassador to Seoul and urged Moscow to immediately stop its military cooperation with the North, which he said would have a “very negative impact” on its relations with the South, the Yonhap news agency said.

Cho Hyun-dong, South Korea’s ambassador to the US, on Tuesday said the apparent strengthening of cooperation between Russia and North Korea was “most concerning”, stressing Seoul and Washington would “not sit idly by”.

North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, Kim Song, said in New York on Tuesday that his country “urgently” needed to bolster its self-defence capabilities, claiming the Korean peninsula faced the “immediate danger of nuclear war”.

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