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A Future Arms Deal Between Putin and Kim Jong Un

On Sep. 13, Kim Jong Un met with Vladimir Putin in Russia’s Far East region near Vladivostok. The visit lasted five days. Kim Jong Un led a large delegation of officials welcomed by Putin. Their meeting raised suspicions over a potential arms deal between the two countries. 


The possibility of an arms deal between Russia and North Korea has proven troublesome for the United States. U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris stated it would be a “huge mistake” for Putin and Kim to meet, as it would isolate them further. National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson urged North Korea to cease negotiations with Russia in a statement, citing previous commitments the country has made to not sell arms to Russia. The release of U.S. intelligence regarding a possible arms deal between Putin and Kim attempted to deter the powers from following through on such claims. However, this has not deterred a meeting between the two pariah states. 


The disclosure of U.S. intelligence to the public has previously deterred North Korea from following through on supplying arms to Russia to the degree of being useful against Ukraine, but something has obviously changed. The United States sanctioned three entities tied to arms deals between North Korea and Russia in August, yet the pressure of sanctions continues to be ineffective.


Any statements by the United States or the international community against Russia or North Korea’s actions are equally inadequate. The Western rules-based order isn’t followed by these countries, and nothing legally could stop them from following through on a deal.


Joel Wit, a former State Department official who has negotiated with North Korean officials echoes this, “Do we have leverage over North Korea? It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out the answer is a resounding no. We have no leverage over North Korea at all unless we want to start taking measures that might lead to a war, like intercepting their ships.” 


If there’s nothing to be done to halt the possibility of an arms deal between Russia and North Korea, then we must prepare as if such a deal will occur. It is unknown how effective an arms deal with North Korea will be in assisting Russia in the war against Ukraine. 


Lee Illwoo, an expert with the Korea Defense Network in South Korea, has stated that North Korea keeps tens of millions of artillery shells. Despite this, we don’t know the true quality of the weapons and artillery shells of North Korea, although the country has claimed they’re the most powerful in the world. Even if North Korea could become a reliable resource for munitions for Russia, there is no telling if it would be an effective or useful resource. 


What’s important to consider is the current morale of Russian soldiers in the war against Ukraine. With the Wagner Uprising in June and the recent death of Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, reports indicate a low morale among Russian soldiers in comparison to their Ukrainian counterparts.


With few significant victories for Russia, a lack of competent commanders, and consistent pushback from Ukraine, an arms deal between North Korea and Russia may prove fruitless in motivating Russians to fight. Only time will tell if an arms deal pushes through and if it is significant enough to be effective against Ukraine. 


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

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