Putin Comes to Pyongyang While an Emboldened Kim Teases War With the South

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited his vassal state of North Korea on Wednesday, cementing ties that have grown closer since the start of the war in Ukraine.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has supplied Russia with millions of rounds of ammunition and tens of thousands of artillery shells. Most of the arms are World War II and 1950s vintage, which raises questions about their efficacy. But Putin isn’t complaining. Apparently, enough of the munitions go “BOOM” to make the transaction worthwhile.

Having a powerful friend like Putin has seemingly gone to Kim’s head. Twice this month, North Korean soldiers have entered the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and even briefly crossed into South Korea. The North has also sent construction crews into the DMZ to repair guard stations that had been torn down after Kim unilaterally canceled a now-defunct agreement on hostile actions in the DMZ.

Not all the “volunteers” entering the DMZ make it home. There’s the little matter of several million landmines in the zone from both sides that the North isn’t very careful about marking for their soldiers. 

New York Times:

The North had pressed on with the work despite “many deaths and injuries” caused by several land mine explosions, the South’s military said, without providing further details.

The South’s military mentioned the casualties as it announced that a group of North Korean soldiers had briefly entered South Korean territory on Tuesday, crossing the military demarcation line that is the official border within the DMZ. It was the second such incident this month; about 20 soldiers did so on June 9, some carrying small arms and others only construction tools, the military said.

On both occasions, the soldiers retreated after the South fired warning shots, according to the military, which said it considered the intrusions unintentional. The border line is not always clearly visible; there are markers at intervals, but some are missing because of floods or a lack of maintenance, and the line is particularly easy to miss in the summer when vegetation is thick, officials say.

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Related: Russia a No-Show at ‘Swiss Peace Conference’

This is the background as Putin visits North Korea. As far as the Russian leader is concerned, the more trouble that Kim can cause for the United States, the better. The two men inked a “partnership deal” on Wednesday. Few details about the deal were forthcoming from either side, but what’s certain is that Kim is going to get vital technology for his ballistic missiles and give Putin a nearly unlimited supply of munitions.

Associated Press:

Kim said the two countries had a “fiery friendship,” and that the deal was the “strongest ever treaty” between them, putting the relationship at the level of an alliance. He vowed full support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Putin said that it was a “breakthrough document” reflecting shared desire to move relations to a higher level.

North Korea and the former Soviet Union signed a treaty in 1961, which experts say necessitated Moscow’s military intervention if the North came under an attack. The deal was discarded after the collapse of the USSR, replaced by a pact in 2000 that offered weaker security assurances. It wasn’t immediately clear if the new deal provides a similar level of protection as the 1961 treaty.

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It certainly seems like Kim is spoiling for a fight. If he thinks that Moscow will back him in any war that the North engages in, Kim becomes one of the most dangerous leaders in the world. 

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