Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un could each have something the other wants – a dangerous combination for the United States.
A meeting that may be underway between Russian and North Korean autocrats could impact the war in Ukraine, complicate Washington’s failed efforts to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear program and play a part in the larger geopolitical chess game. which takes place in the Pacific in 2017. in which China is the major player.
Washington reacted to the possibility of a meeting – which could possibly take place after Kim boarded his armored train bound for Russia’s Far East – by mocking Putin, warning North Korea and trying to figure out what it might mean.
Russia could look to Kim to replenish its reserves of ammunition and artillery as the war in Ukraine turns into another bloody winter. Pyongyang is also adept at drone and missile technology. Kim, meanwhile, knows that Russia is a sophisticated and long-standing nuclear power whose expertise could help expand his own program. It is also a major supplier of oil, and North Korea and Russia both live under harsh Western sanctions and restrictions on their access to the global market. If they can help each other to alleviate the suffering of the blockades, they may be able to do business.
Moreover, for the North Korean leader, the propaganda value of his impoverished country helping to shore up a much larger Russia could be invaluable. And he will come to Washington’s attention after a years-long diplomatic freeze following an outpouring of praise and high-levels from the administration of former US President Donald Trump.
As has often been the case during the war in Ukraine, Washington is using information from its intelligence agencies to prefigure and discredit Putin’s actions before they happen. When it comes to cruel sarcasm, there is no better practitioner than Rahm Emanuel, the United States Ambassador to Japan and an acerbic political operative. If the overarching goal of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was to recreate Moscow’s empire, Emanuel told CNN: “This empire now depends on North Korea, it depends on Iran – two isolated countries, two countries considered pariahs. This shows how this war is a failure.
At the White House, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States was trying to determine whether North Korea could make a meaningful difference to Russia’s war effort. “We posed this question to our intelligence community. It’s a good question. Our visibility into the question of inventory quantity and, of course, inventory quality is somewhat limited,” Sullivan said, adding, “I think there is an open question about the quantity and quality of the material that is stored. could be provided if it were to be provided.
Sullivan warned that selling weapons that Russia could use to attack grain silos or heating infrastructure in major Ukrainian cities would not look good on North Korea. But moral arguments won’t move Kim, who keeps his population locked up in a vast prison camp ravaged by repression and famine.
Even if the United States rejects the possible meeting between Kim and Putin, the two leaders have the ability to stir up trouble in Washington. Russia once joined the United States in a multinational effort to limit Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, but that is clearly no longer likely as Putin seeks to weaken American influence around the world. This means that the North’s arsenal of mass destruction will remain an increasingly serious threat to American national security.
There is also a political dimension here. If North Korea is able to offer Putin significant military aid, it would bolster Russia’s hopes of prolonging the war just as Ukraine’s slow offensive appears to be starting to yield real gains. If the war drags into the US election year, Putin could increase political pressure on President Joe Biden, amid growing public questions over the billions of dollars Washington is giving Ukraine. This skepticism is fueled by Trump’s warnings that Ukraine should be liberated and that he would end the war – on terms likely favorable to Russia – if he won the 2024 election.
A meeting between Putin and Xi Jinping would also heighten fears that the world’s tyrants are uniting in an anti-US alliance. Putin’s friendship with the Chinese leader worries the United States, even though Beijing may not have offered all the help the Russian leader could have hoped for – a reason he may turn to South Korea. North for military supplies. Russia is of course also a Pacific power and could further destabilize an already tense geopolitical theater that represents America’s thorniest national security challenge.