Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un visit the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Amur region.
In less than three years, the erosion in the US hegemony that began cascading with the defeat in Afghanistan in August 2021 spread to Eurasia, followed by the massive eruption in West Asia by the end of 2023, notes M.K. Bhadrakumar, Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer.
As 2024 begins, we hear distant drums in the Far East, as North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong Un instinctively senses a rare alignment of positive factors appearing in the existential conflicts in Eurasia and West Asia and capitalises on it with a strategic shift to challenge what Pyongyang calls a US-led ‘Asian version of NATO’.
The Korean Central News Agency reported on a statement from the country’s Foreign Ministry that North Korea “warmly welcomes President Putin to visit Pyongyang and is ready to greet the Korean people’s closest friend with the greatest sincerity.”
The White House’s senior director for arms control Pranay Vaddi said that the nature of the security threat posed by North Korea could change “drastically” in the coming decade as a result of its unprecedented cooperation with Russia. “What we’re seeing between Russia and North Korea is an unprecedented level of cooperation in the military sphere,” Vaddi told Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank. He added, “And I say ‘unprecedented’ very deliberately — We have never seen this before.”
Vaddi said it was necessary to pay close attention not just to nuclear-armed North Korea’s help for Russia war in Ukraine, primarily in the form of missile systems, but “what could be going in the other direction as well.”
He asked, “How could that improve North Korea’s capabilities? And what does that mean for our own extended deterrence posture in the region with both Korea and Japan?” The US has got Russia’s message alright.
Vaddi’s remarks that were anything but off-the-cuff, followed the 5-day official visit by the DPRK Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui to Moscow during which Putin received the visiting dignitary at the Kremlin.
Anyway, the point of reference was the implementation of “agreements” between Putin and Kim during their meeting in September at the Vostochny Space Launch Centre (Russian spaceport above the 51st parallel North in the Amur Oblast in the Russian Far East).
Commenting on minister Choe’s meeting with Putin, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov asserted that North Korea “is our very important partner, and we are focused on the further development of our relations in all areas, including in sensitive areas.”
In essence, as a Reuters report took note, “Moscow says it will develop ties with whatever countries it wants… Russia has gone out of its way to publicise the renaissance of its relationship, including military ties, with North Korea…”
Indeed, Kim is keen to play his role as well. In the past week alone, North Korea conducted a test of its underwater nuclear weapons system and Kim announced that unification with South Korea is no longer possible. Kim said the North “did not want war, but we also have no intention of avoiding it.”
Without doubt, Russia has chosen to double down on its alliance with North Korea. And Kim expressed his interest in deepening ties with Moscow in a highly public manner by making a personal visit to Russia in September. The timing of that trip was bold given recent moves by the US to strengthen trilateral deterrence efforts against the North with South Korea and Japan.
A de facto trilateral ‘bloc’ with Russia and China in opposition to the US–South Korea–Japan trilateral alliance is in the making. DPRK’s support for Russia in Ukraine would serve China’s interests by containing US power. And North Korea gains immeasurably in strategic depth, thanks to the support by two veto-holding UN Security Council members.
In effect, a new geopolitical vector is appearing in the Far East, which, unlike Ukraine or Gaza, is also a nuclear flashpoint. Geopolitics is moving North Korea’s way.
At any rate, an eastern front is opening in the US-Russia confrontation, supplementing the western and southern fronts in Eurasia and West Asia respectively.
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