The ‘sovereignization’ of Russia-DPRK relations already exists

On June 19, 2024, Russian President Vladimir Putin led a delegation of senior Russian officials to Pyongyang, the capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), for a state visit to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The delegation included, among others, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Defense Minister Andrey Belousov, Deputy Defense Minister Alexey Krivoruchko, and Yury Borisov, head of Roscosmos, the Russian State Corporation for Space Activities.[1]

During the visit, the two leaders signed the “Treaty of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership,” whose key clause worth noting is “immediate mutual assistance in case of aggression against either country.”

As Putin stated in an article published in North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper on the eve of the visit, “Pyongyang has always been our committed and like-minded supporter, ready to confront the collective ambition of the West to prevent the emergence of a multipolar world order based on justice, mutual respect for sovereignty and consideration of each other’s interests.”[3]

(Source: Vladimir Smirnov/POOL/TASS)

‘Mutual assistance in case of aggression against one of the parties’

After talks between Russia and North Korea, Putin said: “The Comprehensive Partnership Treaty signed today provides, among other things, for mutual assistance in the event of aggression against one of the parties to the Treaty.”[4]

He then added that the decision to increase military and technological cooperation with the DPRK came in response to Western measures against Russia: “I would like to draw your attention to the statement by the United States and other NATO countries on the supply of long-range, high-precision weapons, F-16 aircraft and other high-tech weapons and equipment for launching strikes on Russian territory. In fact, it was not just a statement. This is already happening. Western countries have committed themselves under various international obligations.”[5]

Putin stressed: “In this context, the Russian Federation does not rule out developing military and technical cooperation with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea under the document signed today. Our Korean friends take an objective and balanced position on the solution in Ukraine and understand the true root causes of this crisis.”[6]

It is worth noting that the treaty between the DPRK and Russia follows Putin’s statements at the meeting with the heads of international news agencies on June 5, 2024, on the eve of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, on the supply of weapons and long-range missiles to other countries to attack the West. On the occasion, the Russian president said: “We believe that if someone thinks it is possible to supply […] “If we are to supply weapons to a war zone to attack our territory and create problems for us, why can’t we supply our weapons of the same kind to those regions of the world where they will attack sensitive facilities of the countries that are doing this to Russia? The answer could be symmetrical.” [7]

Using DPRK capabilities in the Ukraine conflict?

Asked by the Parlamentskaya Gazeta newspaper whether mutual arms supplies between Russia and the DPRK are possible, First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Foreign Relations Vladimir Dzhabarov said: “Yes, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. Especially since North Korea has manufactured its weapons to the same standards as we do.”[8]

Vadim Kozyulin, a researcher at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, noted: “The concept of ‘aggression’ can be interpreted broadly. Indeed, the United States’ periodic threats to the DPRK and Western countries’ military exercises in the region can become a reason for invoking the provisions of the treaty.” […] Therefore, Moscow’s military assistance to Pyongyang can be justified by existing realities.[9]

At the same time, another Russian military expert, Alexey Leonkov, told Vzglyad that Russian military support could be very useful for the DPRK in terms of renewing North Korea’s anti-missile and air defense, as well as electromagnetic warfare means, while the DPRK could provide Russia with military industry with long-standing orders.[10]

In an article published in Gazeta.ru, Russian military expert Mikhail Khodaryonok wrote that the DPRK is now more interested in updating its air and missile forces and that cooperation could develop in this direction. Kim Jong Un, he said, might be interested in testing products of the North Korean military industry and is looking for a theater of military actions to carry out such a test.[11] Khodaryonok seemed to be hinting at Ukraine.

However, during a press conference in Vietnam, where he arrived after his state visit to the DPRK, Putin said, regarding the use of the DPRK’s capabilities in the Ukrainian conflict: “We do not ask anyone to do this, and no one has offered this to us, so there is no need for it.”[12]

China won’t be thrilled with ‘a new deterrent on its borders’

Kommersant political observer Dmitry Drize expressed doubts that the Comprehensive Partnership Treaty would be beneficial for the Korean Peninsula: “According to Vladimir Putin, everything that is happening will have a deterrent effect and will not give grounds for escalation on the Korean Peninsula. Although it might seem that everything is happening exactly the other way around. It is not remarkable that South Korea and Japan could express great enthusiasm about it.” [13] Drize then added that China would not be enthusiastic about “a new ‘deterrence’ on its borders either.” [14]

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also told the Izvestiya news outlet that bilateral interaction between the two countries helps to mitigate the damage from Western sanctions. In this regard, he stated: “Certainly, there are restrictions. However, there are mechanisms of, so to speak, sovereignization of relations. And such a mechanism may well be applied; this mitigates the adverse consequences of the illegal restrictions in force against our countries.”[15]

[1] Tass.com/politics/1805115, June 19, 2024.

[2] Tass.com/politics/1805661, June 20, 2024.

[3] En.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/74317

[4] En.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/74334, June 19, 2024

[5] En.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/74334, June 19, 2024

[6] En.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/74334, June 19, 2024

[7] En.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/74223, June 19, 2024

[8] Pnp.ru/politics/kak-putin-budet-zapad-perenapryagat.html?clckid=8cc29be9, June 22, 2024.

[9] Vz.ru/politics/2024/6/19/1273896.html, June 19, 2024.

[10] Vz.ru/politics/2024/6/19/1273896.html, June 19, 2024.

[11] Gazeta.ru/politics/news/2024/06/25/23321791.shtml, June 25, 2024.

[12] The following is the transcript of the question and answer regarding the Russia-DPRK Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Treaty:

Pavel Minakov: “Russia and the DPRK signed a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Treaty, which provides, among other things, for cooperation in the military-technical and defense spheres. The last clause of the defense part provides for mutual assistance of the parties to this treaty in the event of an attack by a third party.”

“I have a question on this matter, but it will consist of several parts. First, in what cases should this part of the agreement be invoked? Second, does this apply to the situation in Ukraine? Does it allow for the possibility of volunteers and soldiers from the DPRK taking part in the special military operation?”

«My third question is about the development of the military-technical sphere. Russia and the DPRK are the only ones that have been subjected to so many sanctions. Does Moscow intend to ignore all restrictions, including those imposed by international sanctions, and fully develop cooperation with the DPRK in the military-technical sphere?»

Putin: “You have a whole series of questions, so let’s break them down into parts. First, under what conditions will the parts of the treaty relating to mutual assistance in the military sphere be invoked? Am I right?”

“First of all, I would like to say that for some reason the analysts… well, maybe they noticed it, but I didn’t see it and, to be honest, I didn’t have time to look. But, still, let me point out one thing: this treaty is nothing new. We signed this agreement because the old one expired and all the clauses were the same in our previous agreement, which I think was signed in 1962. There is nothing new here.”

“Of course, in the current conditions this seems to have a special resonance, but we have not changed much and the DPRK has similar agreements with other countries. This is my first point.”

“Furthermore, as regards mutual military assistance, it is written that in the event of aggression, military aggression will be provided.”

“As for Ukraine, the Ukrainian regime launched an aggression against Russia, launched an aggression against the Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics before they became part of the Russian Federation.”

“Now let’s talk about how to use each other’s capabilities in this conflict. We are not asking anyone to do this and no one has offered us to do it, so there is no need.” En.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/74357, June 20, 2024.

[13] Kommersant.ru/doc/6776208, June 21, 2024.

[14] Kommersant.ru/doc/6776208, June 21, 2024.

[15] Tass.com/politics/1805363, June 19, 2024.

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