Putin, Kim Jong Un meeting - GulfToday

Putin, Kim Jong Un meeting

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok, Russia. Reuters

Kim Jong Un shakes hands with Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok, Russia. Reuters

The meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin assumes a unique significance due to the timing. Kim Jong Un travelled in a train to Russia and met Putin in eastern Russia. The North Korean leader just crossed the border. He did not travel to Moscow in European Russia.

Putin is in many ways an isolated figure because of the war in Ukraine. He has not travelled outside Russia since the war began. He did not attend the  G20 summit in Bali in Indonesia last year, and he did not attend the BRICS summit in Johannesburg in South Africa nor the New Delhi G20 summit this year. Putin received foreign leaders like German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Chinese President Xi Jinping and a team of African leaders in Moscow.

His meeting with Kim is different because the North Korean leader is isolated and he does not travel out of his country. It was a rare event when he met former United States President Donald Trump in Singapore though nothing much came of it. So in many ways, the Putin-Kim meeting is one of two isolated leaders.

There is however a difference between Russia and North Korea. North Korea remains the most isolated country in the world. Russia is still connected to countries in BRICS, G20, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. And Putin is a less isolated leader than Kim.

The North Korean leader’s visit to Russia comes at a time when his country has been test-firing missiles with Japan in the target region, and every missile test is seen as a provocation by Japan and the United States. Kim’s Russia visit is about defence but both countries have denied it.

Putin has apparently showed Kim the cosmodrome in Velochny, and promised to launch a North Korean into space. Kim is reported to have shown great interest, and he was asking questions. There was also on offer from the Russian side on satellites.  Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden has warned North Korea about supplying armaments to Russia to fight the war in Ukraine. All that Kim has done is to express full-throated support and ardent hope for Russia’s victory over Ukraine, something that even China did not.

But Kim has always shown himself to be a leader of a country which did not care much for international diplomatic niceties. North Korea never minces its words for the US, with whom it had fought a war in the early 1950s, and the bitterness has not taken a respite for North Korea though the Americans could sometimes relent in their harsh stance.

Americans have warned North Korea of giving military aid to Russia in the Ukraine war. North Korea and Russia had said there was no defence deal between the two. North Korea is not the kind of country which would heed warnings from the West, and especially the United States. But it might not risk further American enmity by openly supplying arms to Russia.

There is however the doubt whether North Korea is in a position to give effective military aid to Russia. North Korea might however hesitate to help Russia militarily because the Americans and the West would further impose restrictions on them. North Korea may want to back off.

The two countries which give aid to North Korea are China and Russia, and the three form an informal strategic grouping despite there being no military understanding among the three. If they were to form a military alliance then they would become vulnerable as the West would formally declare them as an enemy grouping.

The Putin-Kim meeting would provide psychological support to Russians and to show that there are a few countries armed with deadly missiles to oppose what many believe to be the ‘liberal, democratic West’. But the US-led West has not hesitated to resort to any kind of subterfuge to unhinge the ideological enemy as it were. At the same time, America and its allies have not hesitated to do business, directly or indirectly, with Russia, China and North Korea.

Kim returned to North Korea and invited Putin to visit the hermetically closed communist country. Perhaps Putin might take up the invitation. The close ties between Russia and North Korea, however ineffective the combined military strength and knowhow might be, would bother America. And in a bid to isolate Kim, it might want to woo Putin!

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