Russian President Vladimir Putin called for closer ties with the hermit kingdom yesterday, amid US intelligence claims that he could meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the next few days.
“I am convinced that thanks to our joint efforts we will continue to strengthen… bilateral ties on all fronts,” Putin said in a letter addressed to Kim, as North Korea celebrated the 75th anniversary of its foundation with a parade in Pyongyang.
North Korea became the third nation, after Russia and Syria, to formally recognise the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk following Russia’s invasion.
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And Kim has offered to supply cheap labour for the Donbas region. US intelligence sources said that Kim will travel by armoured train to Vladivostok, where he will discuss arms supplies to Russia with Putin.
Former defence secretary Ben Wallace reacted to the news on Tuesday by saying: “And this is how it ends Mr Putin…the once mighty Russia scrabbling around looking for friends and begging North Korea for weapons from the 1960s.”
Experts agreed that, just like its relationship with Beijing, Moscow’s relationship with Pyongyang was one in which Russia’s place was clearly as the junior partner.
But they warned that “very rational” Kim may exert a high price for his help.
“The circle has closed. In the 1980s North Korea was almost exclusively funded by the USSR and China,” said Hans Horan, senior geopolitical analyst at Proximities strategic risk group.
“In fact, when the Soviet Union fell, and China was opening up to the world, North Korea experienced famine.
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“How things have changed.” And Kim, who is used to diplomatic isolation and a prickly relationship with China, has every intention of making the most of his new-found status.
“Despite what people may think, Kim is very opportunistic and very much rational. “His goal is regime preservation and keeping his side of the family in power. In doing this, he has always prioritised security apparatus over economic development or humanitarian aid,” said Mr Horan.
“It is very likely that Kim will want Russian assistance to modernise his nuclear programme. “Russia has a massive stockpile and the capability to miniaturise which North Korea, despite being a nuclear power, does not possess.
“This is not an ideal scenario for Putin, but he would be in no position to say no,” he said.
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