The new North Korea-Russia pact reflects global changes

Pyongyang and Moscow both want something from one another, yet they also want to put on a show of solidarity against the West. It is no NATO, but it is evidence of a wider epochal shift.

The new North Korea-Russia pact reflects global changes

The signing of the new comprehensive strategic partnership agreement between Russia and North Korea is a reflection of the profound realignment in geopolitics that is taking place to challenge America’s long-standing dominance in world affairs.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, the United States has been the world’s dominant power, dictating the agenda on key issues, directing the course of the global economy, and launching military action against threats to its hegemony, as it did in Saddam’s Iraq.

Yet, as recent events demonstrate, Washington’s ability to steer global policy in a direction that suits its own interests is increasingly being challenged by world leaders who no longer bow to US dominance. Nor do they see it as providing global benefits.

This challenge was very much in evidence at a recent summit in Switzerland, which the US hoped would rally support for Ukraine in its two-year-war against Russia.

In the event, a significant number of the participating countries—including Brazil, India, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia—opted not to support the joint declaration reaffirming Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

Putin-Kim partnership

The new partnership signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un therefore needs to be seen within the broader context of this global realignment and challenge to America’s long-standing political and military pre-eminence.

As Putin made clear in a letter published in North Korea’s state media on the eve of his visit, the deepening cooperation between the two countries was a response to what he called US efforts to impose a “neo-colonialist dictatorship” over the world.

On one level, the signing of the pact between Moscow and Pyongyang is their attempt to demonstrate solidarity against their increasing isolation from the West, with both nations subject to punitive sanctions.

Putin said the two countries' deepening cooperation was a response to US efforts to impose a 'neo-colonialist dictatorship' over the world.

The North Korean economy has been badly hit by sanctions imposed by the US and its allies in response to its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles programme, while Russia has been sanctioned by the US and European Union for invading Ukraine in February 2022.

Both countries believe their new pact will help to alleviate the impact of sanctions, with Moscow providing fuel, cash, food, and military expertise, in return for Pyongyang providing arms shipments to sustain Russia's war in Ukraine.

Allies against the US

An important dimension to the deal is the strengthening of their ability to withstand pressure from the US and its allies. As Putin explained following his two-day visit to Pyongyang, which included wide-ranging talks with Kim, the aim is to position Russia and North Korea at the centre of an anti-West axis.

Apart from deepening military cooperation, a key element of the agreement is to establish a mutual defence pact that requires both countries to come to each other's aid in the event that they come under attack, a move designed to strengthen their ability to withstand pressure from the US and its allies.

Describing the pact as a "breakthrough document" that would raise relations "to a new level", Putin confirmed that "it provides for the provision of mutual assistance in the event of aggression against one of the parties to this agreement".

On a practical level, the pact means that North Korea will continue to supply Moscow with vital military equipment that Russian forces desperately require to sustain their military campaign in Ukraine.

Bullets for bread

US officials recently claimed that the North Koreans have been shipping more than 10,000 containers filled with artillery shells, missiles and other weaponry to Russia since the two leaders last met in September at a cosmodrome in Russia's Far East, with Kim arriving for the summit in an armoured train.

In return, North Korea is hoping that, apart from helping to alleviate fuel and food shortages, Moscow will assist North Korea with the development of key military projects, including satellites and nuclear enrichment. 

North Korea has shipped 10,000 containers of artillery shells, missiles, and other weaponry to Russia, hoping for food and fuel in return.

The timing of the agreement reached between Putin and Kim is also important, as it emphasises the deepening divisions between the West and other rival powers.

Putin's arrival in Pyongyang came just a month after he visited China, another close ally of Moscow, where he held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping.   

Putin's summit with Kim also took place within days of democratic leaders from the Group of Seven (G7) nations using a summit in Italy to demonstrate their support for Ukraine in its war against Russia.

Geopolitical plates move

A key factor in Kim's desire to expand ties with Russia is his deepening concern over growing security cooperation between the US, South Korea, and Japan, to curb the threat to regional security posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons.

As Putin explained, another aim of the new strategic partnership with North Korea would be to "shape the architecture of equal and indivisible security in Eurasia".

Apart from providing technical assistance to North Korea's nuclear programme, the Kremlin can provide diplomatic support for Pyongyang at the United Nations against any further attempts by the US to impose sanctions over its nuclear activities.

Compared with other alliances such as NATO, where the US is the dominant power within the 32-member alliance, the new pact between Russia and North Korea might appear a relatively modest venture.

Nevertheless, it highlights the dramatic changes taking place to the world's geopolitical landscape, where American dominance can no longer be assured.

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