Russia and North Korea have established a longstanding relationship dating back to the Soviet era. During World War II, these nations collaborated against Japan and provided mutual assistance throughout the Cold War. In the light of evolving global circumstances arising from the war between Russia and Ukraine, North Korea and Russia are establishing a partnership in the Northeast Asia with the aim of countering potential strategic actions by the United States and Western nations.
The United States has been expanding its economic and military presence in the region, such as the South China Sea, Taiwan, Japan, India, and South Korea, while simultaneously experiencing growing hostility with China. The recent strategic alliance between North Korea and Russia is primarily focused on leveraging the mutual benefits derived from each other’s resources and capabilities, including but not limited to energy, weapons, labor, technology, and diplomatic support.
Since his leadership, Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, has consistently maintained a strained relationship with both South Korea and the United States. In the aftermath of his nation’s nuclear test conducted in 2017, Kim undertook measures to reconcile diplomatic ties with Russia during the same year. During a conference convened in Vladivostok in 2019, Kim initiated his interaction with President Vladimir Putin, thereby reaffirming pre-existing diplomatic relations.
Since the year 2019, the relationship between Russia and North Korea has developed in terms of strategic and economic aspects, as well as mutual support in multilateral forums. A military alliance has been established with the purpose of mutually supporting one another’s geopolitical interests and countering pressures from Western powers.
Since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war, North Korea has actively extended its support to Moscow and intensified its endeavors to establish stronger relations with the Kremlin. A Russian veto in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) prevented the United States from imposing new sanctions on North Korea. Also, Russia has aligned itself with China in its refusal to support additional sanctions against North Korea.
The military operation that Moscow carried out in Ukraine has altered the geopolitical landscape, which resulted in closer ties between the Kremlin and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), reviving their quasi-alliance relationship. In light of Russia’s war of Ukraine, North Korea has allegedly deployed a contingent of 50,000 military personnel and a substantial number of laborers to provide assistance to Russia in its conflict with Ukraine.
Additionally, North Korea has supplied weaponry, including artillery shells and rockets, to support the Russian forces. Furthermore, in light of the imposed sanctions and limited availability of military equipment for its own weapons industry, Russia has procured drones, missiles, and other military hardware from North Korea. Also, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was one of the five countries that voiced opposition to the UN General Assembly resolution calling for the complete withdrawal of Russian military forces from Ukraine.
Significantly, Pyongyang has initiated characterizing its association with Russia as a form of tactical and strategic collaboration. The acknowledgment of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DNR and LNR) as independent entities by Pyongyang represented a notable support for Russia. The United States further made allegations suggesting that Russia attempted to receive a significant quantity of ammunition and other weaponry from North Korea. Both the governments of North Korea and Russia have refuted those allegations. Moreover, the United States posited that Russia’s ongoing involvement in the war in Ukraine had led to an increased reliance on North Korea. However, it is undeniable that the country is currently reaping the advantages of Moscow’s aspiration to establish alliances. Due to their shared state of exclusion from Western influences, Russia and North Korea are actively endeavoring to enhance their bilateral relations.
From an economic standpoint, Russia serves as a significant ally for North Korea, primarily in the context of oil imports. Nevertheless, China plays a pivotal role as a key player in the majority of North Korea’s trade. In spite of the imposed prohibition, Moscow has continued to export oil to North Korea, while a considerable population of North Korean laborers remains inside Russia. Russian officials and the leaders of the separatist regions in Ukraine have had discussions about the potential use of North Korean labor for the purpose of reconstructing the severely damaged regions. In 2022, North Korea imported various commodities from Russia, including horses, wheat flour, medical goods, and gas despite the western sanctions.
Presently, with particular focus on the region, the emergence of partnerships in the Northeast Asian region involving China and Russia and potentially bringing North Korea as well. The broader perspective reveals that Russia exhibits a keen interest in forging closer alignment with China concerning matters pertaining to Korea and other East Asian affairs.
The two countries’ shared goal of limiting the influence of the United States is what is driving this tendency toward alliance. North Korea and Russia exhibit a shared adversary with the United States and its allied nations, who have implemented sanctions and exerted pressure on both states due to their respective nuclear and missile initiatives.
There is a possibility that Moscow continues to hold the belief that a self-reliant North Korea possessing nuclear weapons could effectively deter the United States. As a consequence, the perspectives of North Korea and Russia regarding the preservation of global dominance were further aligned. This further emphasizes the strong interconnectedness between Moscow and Beijing. The Pyongyang expresses a preference for avoiding the potential political repercussions associated with accepting a security guarantee from Russia or China in exchange for reducing the perceived threat from the United States. This preference is particularly relevant in light of North Korea’s possession of its own nuclear deterrent capability. Despite the considerable attention and anticipation surrounding it, the endeavor is primarily centered on Washington. The developers of the initiative seem to have two distinct objectives in mind. In the initial stages, it could be beneficial to identify prospective dimensions of the strategic partnership between China and Russia.
From a geopolitical landscape, both North Korea and Russia’s bilateral relationship is primarily based on their shared dislike of American influence and have been striving to strengthen their alliance with each other. They are working together with the intention of undermining the United States of America and its allies’ hegemonic position in the international community. Hence, North Korea and Russia are collaborating with the aim of asserting their respective sovereignties and countering what they perceive as the unwarranted influence and actions of the United States. North Korea expressed growing concern regarding the escalating military situation and strong condemnation directed towards the actions undertaken by the United States in the Indo-Pacific region. In a more explicit manner, the United States is perceived as an arch-rival that poses a substantial threat to Russia’s strategic security in Eastern Europe.
In conclusion, it can be added that there is a revival of the partnership between Moscow and Pyongyang. Conversely, it is more likely that this will manifest as a strategic alignment than a formal alliance. The operational mechanisms of this trilateral alliance remain uncertain, but the formation of a coalition comprising China, Russia, and North Korea is poised to exert a substantial impact on the power dynamics within Northeast Asia.