08.10.2023 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

On Kim Jong-un’s Visit to Russia, Part Four: More on the Agreements

On Kim Jong-un’s Visit to Russia

On the evening of September 19, 2023, Kim Jong-un’s special train arrived in Pyongyang. Now that the visit is over, it is possible to finally summarize the agreements and answer “frequently asked questions” despite the fact that there was no final statement summarizing the results of the visit, and this was planned from the beginning.

Next. On September 12, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “being neighbors, our countries cooperate in sensitive areas, which should not become the subject of any public disclosure and announcement. It is quite natural for neighboring states.


What outcomes of the visit have already been confirmed by facts or statements?

According to the KCNA, the official friendly visit of Respected Comrade Kim Jong-un, Secretary-General of the WPK and Chairman of State Affairs of the DPRK, will forever be engraved on the tablet of history as a milestone that strengthened the bonds of traditional good-neighborliness and cooperation between the DPRK and the Russian Federation rooted in comradeship and combat solidarity, and opened a new page in the development of relations between the two countries.

It is clear from the statements and speeches of the leaders of the two countries that:

  • the two sides “frankly exchanged views” on the development of bilateral relations, the situation on the Korean Peninsula, the region and the world in general;
  • the DPRK leader reaffirmed full support for the Russian Federation’s foreign policy course, and did so along the lines of shared values of opposing US hegemony. A characteristic quote: “the Russian army and people will win a great victory in the just fight to punish evil groups who pursue hegemony, expansion, and ambition”.
  • Kim Jong-un identified relations with Russia as a “top priority” with the prospect of growing into strategic ones;

But these are general words, and we will try to look for something specific. Russia and the DPRK will try to agree on holding an intergovernmental commission, which will allow discussing the topics raised during the talks between the leaders of the two countries in a more systematic way

  • Vladimir Putin accepted Kim Jong-un’s invitation to visit the DPRK, and preparations are allegedly underway, but no specific date has been set; the Russian President is expected to visit Pyongyang as early as October 2023, but a significant number of South Korean experts are unsure. Either way, the visit should be prepared. The last time the President was in the DPRK was 23 years ago.
  • The Kremlin confirmed Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to the DPRK. The agenda includes preparations for the visit of the President of the Russian Federation and discussion of other issues. The head of Primorye Oleg Kozhemyako will also be part of the delegation that will visit the DPRK, which means strengthening contacts at the regional level.
  • According to Kozlov, head of the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources, a meeting of the Russian Federation-DPRK intergovernmental commission will be held in Pyongyang in November 2023.
  • Vladimir Putin said Russia would help the DPRK build satellites; adding to the rumor that these satellites would be launched on Russian launch vehicles, thus circumventing the sanctions resolution banning the DPRK from launching ballistic missiles, including launch vehicles. This is a very serious shift in Moscow’s position, as eight years ago the Russian Foreign Ministry commented on the satellite launch as follows: “Pyongyang does not heed the calls of the international community, once again demonstrating the defiant disregard for international law.”
  • According to Kozlov, cooperation in the transport and logistics sector (the Hasan-Najin railway, the port of Najin, and, most importantly, road transport) will be intensified; here, first of all, the construction of a cross-border road bridge is to be discussed.
  • As the Interfax news agency reported citing Alexander Kozlov, the Russian Federation and the DPRK will soon resume regular flights on the Vladivostok-Pyongyang route.
  • Russian Ambassador to Pyongyang Alexander Matsegora said in an interview with journalist Marina Kim that Kim Jong-un set specific tasks to develop cooperation with Russia in the hydropower sector. According to him, “everything is very substantive”. Vladimir Khrustalev, a well-known Russian analyst, notes on this issue that the DPRK has a colossal deficit of generating capacities. Many decisions implemented in the difficult 1990-2000s, in conditions of acute shortage of materials and modern equipment, were forced, and now wear and tear and other problems are taking their toll. Russia has a wide range of hydropower turbines and other equipment capable of providing comprehensive modernization of hydropower in the North.
  • Interaction in agriculture was discussed; Kim’s visit to the Arnika enterprise, which makes bio-additives for fodder, indicates an interest in this particular area.
  • Kim Jong-un was interested in the possibilities of cooperation in education, after which Oleg Kozhemyako noted that Primorye is ready to accept DPRK students for training. In addition, the head of Primorye reported on plans to train children from the DPRK in the choreographic school.
  • There is evidence of cooperation in the field of health care. As Vladimir Khrustalev notes, Russia produces incubators for premature babies, ventilators, anesthesia breathing systems, various systems for conventional and laser surgery, a lot of medicines (including technologically complex vector vaccines), and Russian public and private medicine could afford to import knowledge, technologies, techniques and regular advanced training trips to foreign countries. Even after the beginning of the SMO, isolation has not become absolute. For Pyongyang, this is a great wealth, even if it is just for the supply of medical consumables.
  • However, the Northerners refuse classic humanitarian aid. As Alexander Matsegora stated, “Korean comrades, let’s say, they act honestly, they say: ‘Thank you very much, when it will be difficult for us, we will turn to you, now we are fine.’ And, indeed, they have a very, very good crop this year.
  • Oleg Kozhemyako wrote that during the visit they discussed “the prospects of friendly exchanges of school groups for recreational holidays”, and it should be remembered that before the pandemic, schoolchildren from Primorye Territory and beyond regularly visited the Songdowon children’s camp.

Does the outcome of the visit mean that Russia is ignoring UNSC sanctions?

Ahead of the meeting between the leaders of Russia and the DPRK, press secretary D. Peskov said that UN sanctions imposed on North Korea would probably be discussed, among other things.

Because of the UN sanctions in force against the DPRK, virtually all types of economic interaction are prohibited. In 2021, also due to Covid restrictions, foreign trade virtually came to naught, down to a volume of $45 thousand. A year earlier, according to the Federal Customs Service of Russia, the volume of Russian-North Korean trade turnover was $42.74 million, including $42.03 million of Russian exports.

The propaganda media recognized as foreign agents in Russia tried to present the outcome of the summit in this sphere as “Russia refused to comply with the UNSC sanctions against the DPRK” (although the linked interview says otherwise), but on September 15, answering journalists’ questions during a meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Vladimir Putin again stated that Russia was not going to violate any restrictions on the DPRK, but would develop relations with it as a neighbor within the framework of international law.

Sergey Lavrov made a similar point: “sanctions against North Korea were adopted in a completely different geopolitical environment. Then there were problems with getting dialogue going and quite a bit of debate in the UN Security Council. But since the last resolution (that was back in 2017), we have said firmly that there will be no more sanctions against North Korea. Our Chinese partners took the same position. First of all, because in parallel with the measures taken by the UN Security Council, all Western colleagues promised to move in parallel on the political track and to solve humanitarian issues. This was another lie: we, the Chinese and the North Koreans were deceived. So when the Americans wanted to pass another sanctions resolution in May 2022, we didn’t let it pass.”

At the same time, answering the question whether Russia can lift sanctions on North Korea, the minister said: “We did not declare sanctions against North Korea. They were declared by the UN Security Council. So go there”. And this is true because Russia did not impose unilateral sanctions against the DPRK, which it could have lifted without international problems.

It should be noted that there are supporters of the change of approach in the Russian Federation. For example, Kirill Babaev, director of the Institute of China and Contemporary Asia at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said in an interview with a TASS correspondent that the UN sanctions against the DPRK should be reconsidered because they “were once part of a large agreement with the West, but today this agreement has ceased to exist” and the agenda of relations with the DPRK in Russia is already changing.

In his article on the Russian International Affairs Council portal, the author also believes that against the backdrop of further intensification of “global turbulence” and the collapse of the old world order, the need for thorough implementation of sanctions ceases to exist, but on one side is cooperation with North Korea, on the other side is the risk of additional restrictions for violation of sanctions, which could be serious up to an attempt to deprive Russia of its veto right as an aggressor country and a country that demonstratively violates the sanctions it voted for.

Therefore, Moscow’s current position on international sanctions can be summarized into three points.

  • As a responsible power, Russia (at least for now – author’s note) complies with the UNSC sanctions resolutions. There is nothing among the decisions taken that can be interpreted as a direct violation of the sanctions.
  • However, interpretations have become looser and are largely based on the principle of “what is not expressly prohibited is permitted”. This may give rise to accusations of “violating the spirit of the agreement”, which may be ignored, since there is no violation “in letter”.
  • In addition, there will be no new sanctions at the UNSC level. After the joint Russian-Chinese veto on May 26, 2022, all attempts to smear the DPRK through the UNSC (on missile or human rights issues) were stopped.


Was there an arms deal that the US and ROK media is scaring everyone so much about?

Statements that the talks may concern sensitive issues that will not be made public have prompted speculation that military cooperation is likely to be discussed, “as Russia apparently needs North Korea’s supplies of artillery shells and ammunition for its war with Ukraine, while the North wants high-tech weapons technology from Russia.” It’s not clear where the extremely widespread thesis about the obvious need for North Korean shells came from, but the fact that, compared to the 2019 visit, the DPRK leader was accompanied by many more military personnel, was striking. Associated Press drew attention to the fact that the DPRK leader was accompanied on the trip by Chairman of the Space Science and Technology Committee Pak Thae-song, Navy Commander Kim Myong-sik and Director of the DPRK Munitions Industry Department Jo Chun-ryong.

A few hours before Kim’s arrival in Russia, the US government, represented by NSC Spokesperson Adrianne Watson, again warned Pyongyang to “abide by the public commitments that Pyongyang has made to not provide or sell arms to Russia.” The ROK’s conservative media wrote that “the two leaders, each in command of isolated and sanctioned regimes for their aggression and threat to neighbor countries, are feared to make a “devil’s deal’” which “is reminiscent of the milestone meeting with North Korean founder Kim Il Sung and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in Moscow in the spring of 1950. Stalin provided the latest munitions including tanks to bless Kim’s plan to invade South Korea. Their deal led to thousands of deaths in the Korean War. If Russia promises to hand over technology for advanced weaponry like ICBM and nuclear-fueled submarines, it would be supplying weapons of mass destruction in utter defiance of the UN Security Council resolutions and a crime against humanity.”

The lack of explicit statements on the matter has brought to life a series of allegations that Putin and Kim must have discussed something like this, and in the breaks they must have laughed wickedly and took turns stroking a white cat in a diamond collar (an indispensable attribute of a cartoon reality supervillain).

Deutsche Welle (can’t remember if it’s a foreign agent or not yet) writes that according to Western experts, Putin and Kim Jong-un did discuss military cooperation, in particular the supply of North Korean arms and ammunition to Russia, but the sensation didn’t take off.

On September 15, Jake Sullivan made remarks assessing that “before the (Kim’s) visit and after the visit that talks about the provision of weapons by North Korea to Russia to kill Ukrainians have been advancing and continue to advance”.

On September 20, in an interview with NBC, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that “we are looking and taking action to try to disrupt that to break that up wherever we can,” but still offered no evidence of “that”.

On September 21, a senior US official said that it remains unknown whether such a deal will take place, but “we’ve seen cases in the fall of 2021, where they were actually purchasing missiles from the DPRK. And so no doubt they have that in the back of their minds.” Where he could observe such a thing, given that the deal between the DPRK and PMC “Wagner” for millions of shells is not even fiction, but fantasy, is a great mystery.

Other statements of concern, including from the top officials of the US and ROK, will be described in the article on the international reaction to the outcome of the visit.

It is interesting that in their desire to see North Korean arms supplies to Russia, the anti-Pyongyang propagandists have aligned themselves with those Russian “ultra-patriots” in whose view (if you read their Telegram channels) Russia has publicly lifted sanctions, and the DPRK has decided to start supplying Russia with its latest KN-09 multiple rocket launchers and 170-mm Koksan SPG, which by November 2023 will already be on the front lines. However, authors of this kind even earlier predicted North Korean special forces near Bakhmut.

However, as Vasily Nebenzya, the Permanent Representative of Russia to the organization, said in an interview with RIA Novosti, experts of the UN Security Council sanctions committee do not confirm statements about Pyongyang’s alleged transfer of weapons to Russia. No wonder, for it is impossible for a complex of reasons.

  • Pyongyang needs shells, too. According to Russian Ambassador to Pyongyang Alexander Matsegora, “North Korea cannot supply Russia with weapons because it is itself ‘in such a difficult, virtually pre-war situation’.”
  • It is long, risky and inconvenient. Alexander Zhebin, a leading researcher at the Center for Korean Studies at the Institute of China and Contemporary Asia of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told ru that it is economically unprofitable for Moscow to supply arms from the Far East, because it will take 12 days for them to reach Ukraine. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also believes that even if “North Korea may be able to boost Russia’s supply of artillery munitions for the war in Ukraine, that is not likely to make a big difference.”
  • Position of the Russian Federation on sanctions. Any arms deal between Pyongyang and Moscow constitutes a violation of numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions that prohibit any arms trade with North Korea. Yes, much of the DPRK’s arsenal would find its place in an SMO-class conflict, as has been repeatedly emphasized by various Russian experts. But it is not difficult to get caught in an arms trade of this magnitude, which, judging by the points above, Moscow does not want at the moment.

As a result, answering the questions of the program “Moscow. Kremlin. Putin” on September 13, 2023, Sergey Lavrov said that he had stopped paying attention to what the Western media write about North Korean arms supplies. “Especially after the West violated all possible contractual obligations. In particular, by sending a huge amount of remaining Soviet and Russian military equipment (tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery) from the West to the Kiev regime in flagrant violation of the ‘end-use certificates’, according to which these weapons cannot be sent anywhere without the seller’s consent.”

However, as Putin noted on September 13, “Russia complies with the current restrictions on military and technical cooperation with North Korea, but there are also opportunities within the current rules.” Answering a question on the “60 Minutes” program on the Rossiya-1 TV channel about whether military and technical cooperation was discussed during the talks with the North Korean leader, Vladimir Putin reiterated that even within the framework of sanctions, such cooperation is possible and relevant discussions are underway.

What is more likely in this direction? A Korea Times editorial noted that Kim’s visits to Primorye military facilities “showed his shopping list if circumstances allow. Russia will likely give or sell none of these anytime soon,” but such a detailed demonstration is a good hint as to how the situation will unfold in the event of a changed environment. For now, Sergey Shoigu mentioned the possibility of joint exercises, and on September 17, DPRK Minister of Defense Kang Sun-nam said that the Korean People’s Army is ready to strengthen combat brotherhood with the Russian Armed Forces and to defend peace and stability in the region and on the planet together. Then, a demonstration does not equal a sale, but a detailed familiarization with the capabilities of Russian military equipment, combined with gifts such as a “model ship” or drones made in Primorye – which Kim received from Governor Oleg Kozhemyako – may accelerate the military and technical thinking of North Korean scientists, even though formally there was no deal. An attentive eye can grasp many things.

Next, Russia’s transfer of space launch vehicle technology could provide North Korea with a dramatic leap forward and the completion of its ICBM program. The former commander-in-chief of the US Space Force, Gen. John W. Raymond warned that cooperation between Russia and North Korea “could potentially enable North Korea with greater capabilities in the space domain,” but ROK experts consider the transfer of space launch vehicle technology from Russia to North Korea unlikely. The transfer of certain technologies of satellite development and production from the Russian Federation looks more realistic and could significantly increase the level of technology and capabilities of the North Korean reconnaissance satellite. The possibility of agreements on the exchange of intelligence, including that obtained by means of Russian satellite reconnaissance, as well as “connection” of the DPRK to the data of the GLONASS navigation system cannot be ruled out.

As for the author’s more specific recommendations in the field of military and technical cooperation, more specific proposals can be found in his article on the motives of Sergey Shoigu’s visit on the same portal, and more general ones in a joint article by K.V. Asmolov and L.V. Zakharova in the journal “Russia in Global Affairs” with the telling title “Decisiveness and Accuracy”.


Konstantin Asmolov, Candidate of Historical Sciences, Leading research fellow of the Center for Korean Studies at the Institute of China and Modern Asia of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”

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