Putin to visit N. Korea as Kremlin floats possible 'strategic' treaty

Russia is now, along with North Korea, one of the most heavily sanctioned countries in the world and Moscow has spent months warming its relations with Pyongyang as it faces isolation in the West.

18 Jun 2024 08:56am
In this pool photo distributed by Sputnik agency, Russia's President Vladimir Putin (centre L) and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (centre R) visit the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Amur region on September 13, 2023. - File photo by AFP
In this pool photo distributed by Sputnik agency, Russia's President Vladimir Putin (centre L) and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (centre R) visit the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Amur region on September 13, 2023. - File photo by AFP
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MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel to North Korea on Tuesday, in a rare visit that may see Moscow sign a "strategic partnership treaty" with Pyongyang, the Kremlin said.

The historic trip -- which the Kremlin called a "friendly state visit" -- comes as Putin seeks ammunition for his military offensive in Ukraine and as the West suspects Pyongyang of sending weapons to Moscow.

"Several documents will be signed," among which will be "important, highly significant documents", Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov was quoted as saying by state-run Russian news agencies.

This may include a "strategic partnership" document that will be an updated version of a 1961 Soviet-era agreement and one signed when Putin last visited the reclusive state in 2000, he said.

The document will be changed to adapt to a "deep evolution of the geopolitical situation in the world and the region", Ushakov said.

Russia is now, along with North Korea, one of the most heavily sanctioned countries in the world and Moscow has spent months warming its relations with Pyongyang as it faces isolation in the West.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Putin's visit showed how "dependent" Moscow was on authoritarian leaders to wage its offensive in Ukraine.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba dismissed the "lonely bromance" between Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, calling for more Western air defence systems and weapons.

Western countries have accused North Korea of sending weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine, which Moscow and Pyongyang have denied. Kyiv has said it has found North Korean shells on the battlefield.

The White House said the United States is concerned about closer ties between Russia and North Korea.

"We're not concerned about the trip" by Putin, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday. "What we are concerned about is the deepening relationship between these two countries."

Kirby said the worry was not just that "North Korean ballistic missiles are still being used to hit Ukrainian targets, but because there could be some reciprocity here that could affect security on the Korean peninsula."

Soviet-era ties

Moscow said Putin will arrive Tuesday evening in Pyongyang, where he will attend a concert in his honour, before signing "important" documents with Kim on Wednesday.

The Kremlin chief will be taking a large delegation including his foreign, defence, health, transport and space ministers, and may speak to the press along with Kim, Ushakov said.

Washington and Seoul say Russia has provided Pyongyang with technical help for its satellite programme and sent aid to the food-strapped state.

The trip comes nine months after Putin hosted Kim on a rare foreign trip in the Russian Far East where the pair lavished each other with praise.

Russia and North Korea, which share a small land border, have historic links since the Soviet Union helped found the small state after the Korean War in the 1950s.

Since the fall of the USSR, Russia was one of the few countries to have working relations with Pyongyang.

It will be Putin's second visit to the country in his time in power, following a trip 24 years ago, shortly after becoming president, to meet Kim Jong Un's father Kim Jong Il.

Back then, Putin was a frequent traveller, regularly touring the United States and Europe.

Now Russia finds itself under heavy international sanctions and Putin is persona non grata in most of the Western world, as he is officially wanted by the International Criminal Court.

Moscow said he will travel on to Vietnam from North Korea.

'Comrades-in-arms'

Kim said last week that ties with Russia had "developed into an unbreakable relationship of comrades-in-arms".

When the leaders saw each other in September, Putin said he saw "possibilities" for military cooperation with North Korea, while Kim wished Russia's president "victory" in Ukraine.

The Kremlin had for months promised Putin will reciprocate a visit and made increasingly laudatory statements on North Korea.

In March, Russia used its UN Security Council veto to effectively end UN monitoring of North Korean sanctions violations, a move seen as a victory for Pyongyang.

Russia and North Korea have denied that Pyongyang's weapons are being used in Ukraine.

But in May, South Korea said its northern rival fired multiple short-range ballistic missiles, with some experts saying they could be tests for weapons destined for use against Ukraine. - AFP