After a 20-hour journey by armored train, Kim Jong-un met Vladimir Putin yesterday at the Vostochny cosmodrome, in the Russian Far East, 8,000 km east of Moscow. After the visit of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to Pyongyang last July to attend a military parade in Pyongyang, Russia and North Korea are displaying their understanding in the eyes of the whole world.
Moscow has every interest in brandishing its new relationship like a “scarecrow”, according to Antoine Bondaz, researcher at the Foundation for Strategic Research. The professor at Sciences Po and director of the Observatory of Multiculturalism in the Indo-Pacific believes that the delivery of arms to Russia, in difficulty in Ukraine, by North Korea, would have too many costs and constraints for both country.
Le Point: What first lessons can we draw from this meeting between Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un?
Antoine Bondaz: The first lesson is the staging of the meeting which is extremely important, with several messages sent. Firstly, that the two countries are not that isolated on the international scene, and that North Korea has relays. Finally, Russia could use North Korea as a scarecrow to intimidate Westerners and South Koreans. Basically, there are no real announcements yet. The welcome at a cosmodrome then the visit to aeronautical production facilities suggests that there could be increased cooperation on a military level.
What can North Korea hope to seek from Russia and vice versa?
On the North Korean side, they can, quote, search for everything. They have many needs in terms of economics, technology, food, etc. Any cooperation with Russia could be useful. On the Russian side, it's a little more complicated. North Korea doesn't have much to offer. It does indeed have conventional weapons, notably artillery, but we have no visibility on the stocks, their availability and the nature of all the weapons. North Korea's defense industry is not export-oriented. Any draw on stocks would have an impact on its army, even if, for ten years, it has been in the process of very high speed modernization of its arsenal.
Washington claims that this meeting could give rise to possible agreements on North Korean arms deliveries to Russia...
There is a caricatured view that North Korea has weapons. Russia needs them, so their leaders make a deal. It's not that simple. If Russia begins openly importing North Korean weapons, it is violating UN Security Council resolutions. It is not the same thing to import an Iranian drone as a North Korean shell. Politically, it sends the message that Russia isn't even capable of producing enough shells when the Russians say they have an extremely efficient industry.
More than a year ago, the United States already announced that North Korea was supplying shells. Some were used by the Russians and Ukrainians, but not many. These are a priori existing stocks and not necessarily recent transfers or deliveries of weapons. In February, everyone explained that China was going to deliver weapons to Russia. There was none. I'm not saying that there will never be arms deliveries, no one knows, but we must not forget that there are costs and constraints on both sides.
How can China, which is an ally of North Korea, perceive this attempt at rapprochement?
In itself, anything that thwarts American plans or damages the image of the United States is a good thing for China. Potentially, we could have a visit to China after the one to Russia. By going to China, the North Koreans increase their strategic value. It is difficult to define the level of coordination with precision between the two countries. But it would be interesting to see if in the coming months there is not a staging of tri-lateral collaboration to mirror the United States-Japan-South Korea. The aim is to scare this last country which is one of the only ones to have a defense industry oriented towards export and which could support Ukraine.