North Korea: Kim pledges ‘unconditional support’ for Russia’s Ukraine war during Putin visit

Russian president signs ‘strictly peace-loving and defensive’ partnership pact with Kim Jong-un’s DPRK

Kim Jong-un (R) and Vladimir Putin walk past children during a welcoming ceremony at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang. Photograph: GAVRIIL GRIGOROV/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Russia and North Korea have signed a strategic partnership deal that includes a pledge to defend each other from attack, in a move that deepens ties between the two autocratic states and ramps up their confrontation with the West and its allies in Asia.

Russian president Vladimir Putin hailed the deal as a “breakthrough document” with North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un said the “strongest ever treaty” between Pyongyang and Moscow moved their relations to the “higher level of an alliance.”

Both leaders vowed to thwart what they portray as US bullying in world affairs, but revealed few details of what their deeper co-operation would entail, amid close scrutiny from Washington and its key allies in east Asia – South Korea and Japan.

“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,” Mr Putin said on Wednesday during a visit to North Korea.

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He framed the agreement as a response to western provision of advanced weapons to Kyiv - including the expected arrival of US-made F-16 fighter jets this year - to help Ukraine counter an invasion that the Kremlin calls a “special military operation”.

“This is already happening and all this is a gross violation of limitations agreed upon by western countries within the framework of various kinds of international obligations,” Mr Putin said. “In connection with this, Russia does not exclude the development of military-technical cooperation with (Pyongyang).”

North Koreans release balloons as Russian president Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, attend a welcoming ceremony in Pyongyang. Photograph: Vladimir Smirnov/Pool/AFP via Getty

He visited North Korea for the first time in 24 years in an apparent attempt to dispel western claims that he is increasingly isolated, almost 2 ½ years into a full-scale invasion of Ukraine that has showed Russia’s military to be far weaker than previously thought and has exposed its economy to wide-ranging international sanctions.

The US, South Korea and Ukraine say Pyongyang is already supplying Moscow with ballistic missiles and artillery shells, and they question whether the Kremlin is providing rocket and satellite technology in return. Russia and North Korea deny this, and insist their trade complies with UN sanctions on Pyongyang.

Mr Kim said 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.”

A pariah in most western states, Mr Putin (71) received a lavish welcome in Pyongyang, where cheering crowds waved flowers, flags and balloons as he passed by, and his face adorned posters lining major roads. Huge portraits of the two leaders hung above Kim Il Sung square beside the Taedong river that runs through the city.

Russian state media said that after signing a pact that Mr Kim insisted was “strictly peace-loving and defensive”, Mr Putin gave his host a Russian-built limousine and briefly drove him around in the car, before they swapped places and Mr Kim drove.

Washington has expressed concern over a deepening relationship that it says is replenishing Mr Putin’s arsenal and could involve technology transfers that would breach UN sanctions on Pyongyang and destabilise the Korean peninsula.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken said Russia was trying “in desperation, to develop and to strengthen relations with countries that can provide it with what it needs to continue the war of aggression that it started against Ukraine.”

Major US defence firm Northrop Grumman announced plans to manufacture ammunition in Ukraine, in the wake of decisions by European counterparts Rheinmettal and KNDS to launch operations in the country. French weapons maker Thales also said on Wednesday that it had signed three deals to strengthen co-operation with Kyiv.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe