Russia's Putin, North Korea's Kim sign mutual defence pact

Russia has used its warming ties with North Korea to needle Washington, while heavily sanctioned North Korea has won political backing and promises of economic support and trade from Moscow.
Last Updated : 19 June 2024, 10:14 IST

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Seoul: The leaders of North Korea and Russia signed an agreement on Wednesday that deepens their military cooperation to include a mutual defence pledge to help each other if attacked, with the North's Kim Jong Un calling the new ties an "alliance".

Kim spoke at a rare press conference following his meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Pyongyang, announcing the signing of a "comprehensive strategic partnership" that the Russian leader said included defensive elements.

"The comprehensive partnership agreement signed today provides, among other things, for mutual assistance in the event of aggression against one of the parties to this agreement," said Putin, who was making his first visit to North Korea in 24 years.

Putin's visit, which is likely to reshape decades of Russia-North Korea relations at a time when both face international isolation, is being watched closely by Seoul and Washington, which have expressed concern about their growing military ties.

The reaction from China, the North's main political and economic benefactor and an increasingly important ally for Moscow, has been muted.

Kim said the pact would expand cooperation in the areas of politics, economy and defence, calling it "strictly peace-loving and defensive" in nature.

"Our two countries' relations have been elevated to the new higher level of an alliance," Kim said.

At the start of their summit, Kim expressed "unconditional support" for "all of Russia's policies", including "a full support and firm alliance" for Putin's war with Ukraine.

Putin said Moscow was fighting the hegemonic, imperialist policy of the United States and its allies, Russian media reported.

"We highly appreciate your consistent and unwavering support for Russian policy, including in the Ukrainian direction," Russian state news agency RIA quoted Putin as saying at the start of the talks.

Russia was hit with US-led Western sanctions after Putin launched a full-scale invasion of neighbouring Ukraine in February 2022 in what Moscow called a "special military operation".

'Unconditional and unwavering support'

Putin, who had hosted Kim at a summit in September in the Russian Far East that accelerated the two countries' military cooperation, received a lavish welcome in Pyongyang.

An honour guard including mounted soldiers, and a large crowd of civilians gathered at the Kim Il Sung Square by the Taedong River running through the capital. The scene included children holding balloons and giant portraits of the two leaders with national flags adorning the square's main building.

Kim and Putin then rode to the Kumsusan Palace for summit talks.

Earlier, Kim said the increasingly complicated security environment around the world called for a stronger strategic dialogue with Russia.

"And I want to reaffirm that we will unconditionally and unwaveringly support all of Russia's policies," Kim told Putin.

North Korea "expresses full support and solidarity to the Russian government, army and people in carrying out a special military operation in Ukraine to protect sovereignty, security interests, as well as territorial integrity", he said.

Putin arrived at Pyongyang's airport earlier in the day. After Kim welcomed him with an embrace, the two shared "pent-up inmost thoughts" on the ride to the state guest house, North Korean state media said.

The countries' partnership was an "engine for accelerating the building of a new multi-polar world" and Putin's visit demonstrated the invincibility and durability of their friendship and unity, North Korea's state news agency KCNA said.

Russia has used its warming ties with North Korea to needle Washington, while heavily sanctioned North Korea has won political backing and promises of economic support and trade from Moscow.

The United States and its allies say they fear Russia could provide aid for North Korea's missile and nuclear programmes, which are banned by UN Security Council resolutions, and have accused Pyongyang of providing ballistic missiles and artillery shells that Russia has used in its war in Ukraine.

Moscow and Pyongyang have denied weapons transfers.

'Alternate trade mechanism'

After Putin's arrival in Pyongyang was delayed by hours, he emerged from his plane at a pre-dawn hour and was greeted by Kim on the red carpet alone, without the grand ceremony the North put on for Chinese President Xi Jinping on his 2019 visit.

The pair then rode in Putin's Russian-made Aurus limousine to the Kumsusan State Guest House.

State media photos showed streets of Pyongyang lined with portraits of Putin and the facade of the unfinished and vacant 101-story pyramid-shaped Ryugyong Hotel brightly lit with a giant message "Welcome Putin".

In a signal that Russia, a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, is reassessing its approach to North Korea, Putin praised Pyongyang ahead of his arrival for resisting what he said was US economic pressure, blackmail and threats.

In an article for North Korea's official ruling party newspaper, he promised to "develop alternative trade and mutual settlement mechanisms not controlled by the West" and "build an equal and indivisible security architecture in Eurasia".

Published 19 June 2024, 10:14 IST

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