Putin to visit North Korea in bid to bolster military support amid Ukraine war

Putin to visit North Korea in bid to bolster military support amid Ukraine war
Vladimir Smirnov/AP

Vladimir Putin is set to embark on a rare journey overseas this week, heading to North Korea to ensure ongoing military backing from one of the globe's most secluded countries for Russia's struggling military campaign in Ukraine.

During his initial trip to Pyongyang since 2000, the Russian leader is set to reach on Tuesday accompanied by a significant group that comprises senior defense figures such as the recently appointed Defense Minister Andrey Belousov and Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov, who is responsible for the defense industry.

Putin will hold one-on-one talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, with plans to "dedicate a considerable amount of time" to informal meetings covering "the most important and most sensitive questions," according to Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov.

At the top of the agenda will likely be discussions around expanding security and economic cooperation between the two countries in defiance of sweeping Western sanctions levied against both pariah states. North Korea has already provided a crucial lifeline to Russia's military by supplying millions of rounds of artillery munitions.

"North Korea has supplied Russia with millions of rounds of Soviet-era artillery munitions as a crucial lifeline to prop up the Russian military campaign in Ukraine," said U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last month, adding that the munitions and Iranian-made drones have helped Russia "get back up on their feet."

In addition to artillery rounds, reports indicate North Korea has also provided Russia with ballistic missiles, electronic equipment and other military hardware for use in the Ukraine invasion. In exchange, Russia is believed to have aided North Korea's satellite program and provided arms, economic assistance and diplomatic support.

The military aid has become increasingly vital for Russia as its own stockpiles dwindle after over 15 months of heavy fighting in Ukraine. South Korean Defense Minister Shin Wonsik estimated that as many as 4.8 million North Korean artillery shells may have been sent to Russia in some 10,000 shipping containers.

"Putin is expected to seek closer security cooperation with North Korea, especially military supplies such as artillery shells that are necessary to seize a chance to win," Shin told Bloomberg News.

The trip is a relatively rare foreign visit for Putin, who has limited his travel primarily to allied countries since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. He is now also the subject of an International Criminal Court arrest warrant over the alleged deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.

For the increasingly isolated Russian leader, North Korea represents one of the few nations willing to maintain economic and military ties. Both countries have faced stringent sanctions and export controls aimed at depriving them of resources and revenue for their nuclear programs and acts of aggression.

With their economies battered and supplies dwindling, the two leaders have grown increasingly aligned - creating a de facto alliance of outcast nations working in concert to undermine the efforts of Ukraine and its Western backers.

"The program is very full," Ushakov said of Putin's schedule in Pyongyang, where he is expected to push for an expansion of the clandestine military pipeline that has allowed Russia to restock its weapons and sustain its onslaught despite mounting losses on the battlefield.

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