Why Putin and Kim Jong-un’s controversial alliance has sparked concerns in the West - Hindustan Times
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Why Putin and Kim Jong-un’s controversial alliance has sparked concerns in the West

ByNandan Unnikrishnan
Jun 25, 2024 08:00 AM IST

The Russia-North Korea Treaty has caused a stir globally, especially with its commitment to mutual military assistance and opposition to unilateral sanctions

While the Treaty on Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between Russia and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) may affect the geopolitical balance in Eurasia, particularly North-East Asia, it is certainly causing considerable consternation in some global capitals.

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un exchange documents during a signing ceremony of the new partnership in Pyongyang, North Korea, on June 19, 2024. Kim and Putin signed a major defense deal that observers worry could embolden Kim to direct more provocations at South Korea. (Kristina Kormilitsyna, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)(AP) PREMIUM
FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un exchange documents during a signing ceremony of the new partnership in Pyongyang, North Korea, on June 19, 2024. Kim and Putin signed a major defense deal that observers worry could embolden Kim to direct more provocations at South Korea. (Kristina Kormilitsyna, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)(AP)

Attention is primarily focussed on Article 4 of the treaty which says "In case any one of the two sides is put in a state of war by an armed invasion from an individual state or several states, the other side shall provide military and other assistance with all means in its possession without delay in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter and the laws of the DPRK and the Russian Federation." Article 51 of the UN Charter is about the rights of a member country to take individual or collective self-defence actions.

The Russia-DPRK Treaty obliges both sides “not to conclude with any third country any agreement encroaching upon the other side's sovereignty, security, territorial inviolability, rights to freely opt for and develop political, social, economic and cultural systems and other core interests, nor to take part in such actions.”

The Treaty, which has “indefinite effect” and opposes non-UN sanctioned unilateral sanctions as “illegal”, also commits the two sides to boosting economic ties. It also says the two sides will cooperate in “combating such challenges and threats as international terrorism, extremism, multinational organised crime, human traffic, hostage taking, illegal immigration, illegal circulation of money, financing of terrorism…”

Russian President Vladimir Putin described the agreement as a “breakthrough” while calling for an end to unilateral sanctions. “We will continue to oppose the practice of suffocating sanctions as an instrument the West has come to use to retain its hegemony,” he said.

North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un said that Pyongyang fully supports Russia’s policies, including the war against Ukraine and said deepening ties with Russia were against "hegemonic and imperialist" policies of the West and the United States, in particular.

International reaction to the Treaty has been on expected lines — criticism by the US and its allies, including Japan and South Korea, while the rest of the world, including China, have preferred official silence. The West has accused North Korea of supplying weaponry to Russia to support its war effort in Ukraine and sees the Treaty as an attempt to legitimise this cooperation.

South Korea held an emergency national security council meeting to discuss the Putin-Kim meeting. After the meeting, the country’s national security adviser, Chang Ho-Jin said South Korea would strengthen security cooperation with Japan and the United States as well as reconsider its decision to send weapons to Ukraine. It had previously ruled out sending lethal arms to Ukraine.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s chief cabinet secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said, “We are seriously concerned about the fact that President Putin did not rule out military-technical cooperation with North Korea.”

The US state department said that "deepening cooperation between Russia and the DPRK is a trend that should be of great concern to anyone interested in maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, upholding the global non-proliferation regime, abiding by UN Security Council resolutions, and supporting the people of Ukraine."

China’s response was neutral while describing the Treaty as a bilateral matter between Russia and North Korea. However, the Chinese newspaper Global Times was more forthcoming and said that the Treaty would take the bilateral relationship between Moscow and Pyongyang to a new level. It also said that this was a “rational choice” for two countries with long-standing ties.

The Chinese describe their relationship with North Korea as one “between the teeth and lips”. Therefore, there could be a twinge of jealousy about the growing closeness between Russia and North Korea, says Georgy Toloraya, one of Russia’s leading Korea specialists.

Although Russia or North Korea are unlikely to take steps that could harm Chinese interests, Beijing would be concerned with how the US and its Northeast Asian allies respond to this new challenge thrown up by the developing closeness between Moscow and Pyongyang. Beijing would not want any worsening of the security environment around the Korean peninsula.

About the South Korean decision to review its stand on weapons to Ukraine, Putin said: “We replicated the 1960, or the 1962, treaty after it expired... South Korea, the Republic of Korea, has nothing to worry about because assistance in the military sphere under the treaty that we have signed will only be provided in the event of aggression against either signatory party.”

“To the best of my knowledge, the Republic of Korea is not planning to launch an aggression against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Consequently, there is no need to fear our cooperation in this sphere. Regarding possible deliveries of lethal weapons to the combat operations zone in Ukraine, this would be a grave mistake. I hope that it will not happen. If it happens, we will also make the necessary decisions that the leadership of South Korea will hardly welcome,” he added while addressing a press conference in Hanoi.

In addition to South Korean supplies, by linking western military aid to Ukraine to the agreement with North Korea, Putin seems to have found a neat riposte to the West’s provision of sophisticated weaponry to Ukraine without having to invoke the threat of nuclear weapons.

Meantime, India is likely to adopt a “wait and watch” approach. New Delhi could probably conclude that the Russia-DPRK agreement is unlikely to substantially affect the security situation on the Korean Peninsula, particularly given North Korea’s nuclear weapons, and hope that the escalation ladder is stymied in the Ukraine conflict.

Nandan Unnikrishnan is distinguished fellow, Observer Research Foundation. The views expressed are personal

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