By Kim Soo-yeon
SEOUL, Sept. 14 (Yonhap) — The latest summit between the leaders of North Korea and Russia has served as a defining moment for the two isolated countries to advance military cooperation and expand their ties, spawning concerns that a new Cold War framework could be highlighted on the Korean Peninsula, experts say.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a summit Wednesday at the Vostochny spaceport in Russia’s Far Eastern region. It marked their first talks since April 2019, when they held a summit in Vladivostok.
Details about the results of the summit are not known, but they are highly likely to have discussed Pyongyang’s provision of artillery shells and ammunition to Moscow for its war in Ukraine despite international warnings.
North Korea also seems desperate to secure advanced weapons technology transfer from Russia, as the secretive regime is hellbent on developing high-tech weapons, such as military spy satellites and nuclear-powered submarines.
“The summit between North Korea and Russia indicates the bilateral relations have developed into a level of strategic alliance beyond the restoration of their Cold War-era relations,” Cheong Seong-chang, a director at the Sejong Institute, said.
The leaders of the two nations, which some call “pariah states,” touched on the possibility of bolstering military cooperation during the summit.
Putin hinted at helping North Korea’s satellite technology, while Kim expressed his “full” support for Russia over what it calls “special military operations” in Ukraine.
Amid the protracted war in Ukraine, Russia needs to replenish its depleting reserves of ammunition. Despite international sanctions on its nuclear and missile programs, North Korea is focusing on sophisticating its military arsenal, with its near-term goal apparently being making a third attempt to successfully launch a spy satellite in October.
At the Vostochny space center, Putin was quoted as saying by Russian state media that “that’s why we’ve come here,” when asked by reporters if Russia would help the North build its own satellites.
North Korea launched a military spy satellite, named the Malligyong-1, mounted on the Chollima-1 rocket in May and August, but they ended in failure.
Any arms deal between Pyongyang and Moscow constitutes a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban arms transactions with the North.
In the run-up to the summit, the United States warned it will “not hesitate” in imposing sanctions if North Korea agrees to provide weapons to Russia.
Experts said various formats of military cooperation between the North and Russia could be anticipated, including joint military drills.
“The two nations are expected to execute military cooperation in a gradual manner, starting from the North’s arms supplies,” Hong Min, a researcher at the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification, said.
“Russia’s transfer of advanced technology related intercontinental ballistic missiles or nuclear-powered submarines may be carried out over the long term,” he added.
But a ranking Seoul official remained doubtful about the possibility of Russia’s advanced military technology transfer.
“There would be limitation for such a move, given that there is nothing for Russia to expect from North Korea other than artillery shells,” a high-ranking official at South Korea’s unification ministry told reporters Thursday. “Over the long haul, North Korea will only be a burden for Russia and China.”
North Korea has been seeking to bolster its ties with China and Russia vis-a-vis the strengthening of security cooperation among South Korea, the U.S. and Japan.
Joined by Russia’s visiting defense minister and a senior Chinese official, the North’s leader oversaw a military parade to mark its key anniversary in late July, a scene displaying solidarity among the three nations.
The leaders of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan held a trilateral summit at Camp David last month, and agreed to closely cooperate to counter Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile threats.
Experts said South Korea needs to strengthen its relations with China in a bid to respond to North Korea and Russia’s push to bolster the bilateral ties.
On the assessment of the Kim-Putin summit, China said “it is the matter of the two nations,” seemingly keeping itself at a distance.
President Yoon Suk Yeol vowed Tuesday to “actively” seek a trilateral summit with China and Japan, a gathering not held since 2019 due to historical disputes between Seoul and Tokyo, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The level of three-way cooperation among North Korea, China and Russia appears to be lousy. In a situation where China is not actively participating, it would be wrong to regard the three nations as one bloc,” the unification ministry official said.