Washington, Seoul sound alarm over Putin’s visit to Pyongyang

washington — Washington and Seoul have expressed alarm about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s upcoming visit to Pyongyang, while Beijing says it has no intention of interfering with the cooperation between Russia and North Korea.

Putin will pay a state visit to North Korea on Tuesday and Wednesday, the North’s official KCNA news agency announced on Monday. His trip to Pyongyang will be followed by a two-day state visit to Vietnam, where discussions will touch on trade and economic cooperation, the Kremlin said Monday.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry said it opposes Moscow and Pyongyang deepening their military cooperation through Putin’s trip to the country.

“All cooperation and exchanges between Russia and North Korea will need to abide by relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions and contribute toward the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula,” a spokesperson told VOA’s Korean Service on Monday.

Putin’s visit to the country, the first in 24 years, comes amid increased military cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang.

North Korea has transferred approximately 10,000 containers that could hold nearly 5 million artillery shells to Russia to fight against Ukraine, South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik said in an interview with Bloomberg News on Friday.   

All arms exports and imports by North Korea are sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council.

Both Pyongyang and Moscow have denied any arms dealings between them.

Putin’s trip to Pyongyang is expected to increase military cooperation that officially kicked off when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited Russia in September 2023. Kim invited Putin to Pyongyang during his visit to Russia.

“We discourage any government from receiving President Putin,” a State Department spokesperson told VOA’s Korean Service on June 12.

“If he is able to travel freely, it could normalize Russia’s blatant violations of international law and inadvertently send the message that atrocities can be committed in Ukraine and elsewhere with impunity,” the spokesperson said.

Deepening cooperation between Russia and North Korea poses concern for the Korean Peninsula as well as for Ukraine as it defends its “freedom and independence against Russia’s brutal war,” the spokesperson added.

After the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Putin in March 2023 for Russia’s alleged war crimes in Ukraine since its unprovoked invasion of the country in February 2022, Putin is limited in his international travels to allied countries.

Since his new presidential term began in May, Putin has visited Belarus, China and Uzbekistan.

In the meantime, Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, told VOA on Thursday that “China has no intention [of] interfer[ing] with the exchange and cooperation between two sovereign countries.”

He said, “Both DPRK and Russia are China’s friendly neighbors.” North Korea’s official name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

China and Russia, both veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, have supported North Korea at council meetings held in the past several years by opposing new U.S.-led resolutions condemning North Korea’s ballistic missile launches banned by the U.N.

In March, Moscow vetoed a resolution granting the annual extension of a U.N. panel of experts that monitors sanctions on North Korea while Beijing abstained.

Michael Kimmage, who served on the U.S. State Department’s Policy Planning staff on Russia and Ukraine from 2014 to 2016, said, “Putin wishes to forge a long-term relationship with North Korea, and this would be reflected” in his visit to Pyongyang.

“Not only does North Korea supply Russia with weaponry to use in its war against Ukraine, but a more radical North Korea will pin the resources of Russia’s archenemy, the United States, in East Asia, helping to create a third zone of difficulty for Washington, in addition to Europe and the Middle East,” Kimmage said.

Kimmage, currently the chair at Catholic University of America’s history department, added that Russia’s other partner, China, may not want Pyongyang to be more provocative and may not be pleased with deepening ties between Moscow and Pyongyang.

Earlier this month, Putin threatened to arm the West’s adversaries with long-range missiles that could target the West in response to NATO members, including the U.S., allowing Ukraine to use Western-supplied weapons to target inside Russia.

Evans Revere, a former U.S. State Department official with extensive experience negotiating with North Korea, said Putin’s meeting with Kim in Pyongyang “could reveal the details of Russian support for North Korea.”

“Pyongyang is reportedly interested in missile guidance, engine and fuel technologies, avionics upgrades for its aircraft and assistance with its nuclear program,” he said.

Revere added, “Russia has a significant strategic and tactical interest in complicating the security calculus of the United States and its allies in Northeast Asia. Putin’s visit will soon demonstrate how far Moscow is prepared to go in pursuing that interest.”

VOA’s Soyoung Ahn contributed to this report.

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