Russia's Deal With North Korea Is 'Ominously Ambiguous'

They pledge assistance to each other in the event of 'aggression,' but details will be key
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 19, 2024 9:13 AM CDT
New Pact Between Putin, Kim Is 'Ominously Ambiguous'
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, center, walk after a signing ceremony in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Wednesday, June 19, 2024.   (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un made a big deal of their newly cemented partnership on Wednesday, with the Russian leader calling it a "breakthrough" and his North Korean counterpart labeling it a "most powerful agreement." But what exactly does it say? Neither side has released the text, and the details in this case are seen as crucial. Coverage:

  • Putin's words: "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, per Reuters. The Russian leader is visiting North Korea for the first time in two decades.
  • Unclear: Does that mean Russia would unleash a "full-fledged military intervention" if North Korea is attacked, and vice versa? That's not clear, reports the New York Times. The newspaper notes that the two nations had a Cold War-era aggression pact of this nature, but it has been defunct since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

  • Hard to assess: At the BBC, Paul Adams writes that it will be difficult to gauge just how groundbreaking this is until the formal text is released. Putin made a point to say the pact "did not exclude the development of military-technical cooperation with North Korea." But exactly what the aforementioned "mutual assistance" might entail is the big unknown. "Perhaps the two leaders will prefer for that to remain ominously ambiguous."
  • Potential impact: "Depending on the exact wording of the pact ... it could be a dramatic shift in the entire strategic situation in Northeast Asia," per Reuters, quoting Artyom Lukin of Russia's Far Eastern Federal University. A big question is what China, which has heretofore been North Korea's biggest benefactor, will think of all this. So far, Beijing has not weighed in.
  • On the other hand: The two nations already have been assisting each other militarily, notes the Wall Street Journal, with Russia in dire need of North Korea's ample stock of conventional weaponry. For now, "there is nothing fundamentally new about this relationship today that was not true before Putin's visit," says Patrick M. Cronin, the Asia-Pacific security chair at the Hudson Institute. That would change only if the pact spells out a military commitment to retaliate on each other's behalf. Still, the fast-growing partnership has ramifications on everything from the West's ability to limit North Korea's nuclear ambitions to the war in Ukraine, which could be prolonged as Putin beefs up his arsenal.
(More Vladimir Putin stories.)

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