Russia, North Korea say they’ve strengthened ties, including mutual defence pact

A strategic partnership pact signed by the leaders of Russia and North Korea on Wednesday includes a mutual defence clause under which each country agrees to help the other repel external aggression, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.

“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,” Putin said in Pyongyang.

Kim Jong-un expressed “unconditional support” for “all of Russia’s policies,” including “a full support and firm alliance” for Putin’s war with Ukraine, at a summit with the Russian leader, who was making his first visit to the North in 24 years.

Cheering crowds and lavish ceremonies greeted Putin in Pyongyang. The visit, reshaping 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.

Asiatic people are seen on the side of what appears to be a parade route, holding large flags and waving banners. A portrait of an older Caucasian man is shown.
In this pool photograph distributed by the Russian state agency Sputnik, people stand along a street to greet the convoy carrying President Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader was given a red carpet welcome and a military ceremony in Pyongyang. (Gavriil Grigorov/AFP/Getty Images)

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 in a grand welcome ceremony for Putin. 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.

“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.

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

Kim said North Korea-Russia relations were entering a period of “new high prosperity.”

West concerned about weapons transfers

Following a summit with top aides then one-on-one talks that lasted two hours, Putin and Kim signed a comprehensive strategic partnership pact, Russian media reported. Putin’s foreign policy aide has said the pact would be the basis for a broader co-operation between the two countries.

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.

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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.

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

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 programs, 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.

Striking Russian targets a ‘gross violation’: Putin

Putin drew attention to statements by the United States and other NATO countries, which have agreed to let Ukraine strike targets inside Russia with Western-supplied weapons.

“This is not just statements; it is already happening, and all this is a gross violation of the restrictions that Western countries have assumed within the framework of various international obligations,” Putin said.

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.”

An older balding Caucasian man in a suit and tie is shown in an nighttime photo on an airport tarmac receiving a bouquet of flowers from an Asian woman in a traditional costume.
Putin, left, is welcomed upon his arrival to meet with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un at the Pyongyang Sunan International Airport. (Gavriil Grigorov/Sputnik/The Associated Press)

Wednesday’s agenda included a gala concert, state reception, honour guards, document signings and a statement to the media.

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 U.S. 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.”

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Reaction concerning the trip from China, the North’s main political and economic benefactor and an increasingly important ally for Moscow, has been muted.

Putin is subject to an arrest warrant over the Ukraine invasion, issued by the International Criminal Court, but neither North Korea nor Vietnam — where the Russian leader is headed next — are signatories to the court’s charter.

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