Geopolitical Insights

Academy SITREP – Putin and Kim Jong Un to Meet in Russia

September 12, 2023
What has Happened:

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is on his way to Russia to meet with President Putin this week to discuss a potential deal to supply Russia with weapons for use in its war in Ukraine.
  • In return for weapons such as artillery shells and anti-tank missiles, U.S. officials believe that North Korea will likely want food and energy shipments as well as the transfer of sophisticated technology (related to satellites and nuclear submarines) from Russia.
  • The U.S. first warned about cooperation between North Korea and Russia a year ago when Russia planned to buy artillery shells (North Korea reportedly shipped munitions to Russia through the Middle East and North Africa, but it is unclear if anything made it to the front lines).
  • While a resupply of ammunition would be helpful to Putin’s war effort, Kim potentially stands to gain more in a deal in the form of aid, diplomatic posturing, and technology.
  • As the U.S., Japan, and South Korea demonstrated the strengthening of their relationship at the trilateral summit last month (see ATW), Kim likely needs to reaffirm his relationship with Putin.
  • Ukraine has made “notable progress” in its southern offensive in the past week and Secretary Blinken recently made a surprise visit to the country and he pledged more than $1 billion in additional aid (over $43 billion has been provided by the U.S. since the war began).
Why it Matters:

“The relationship between Putin and Kim Jong Un has always been transactional. However, Xi Jinping has historically had a closer relationship and more influence on Kim than Putin. The meeting is another step in the growing axis between China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran to reduce U.S. and Western influence. The move by the U.S. to declassify intelligence on the meeting continues the information campaign to isolate Russia in its war with Ukraine. Intelligence of this type may not have been released in the past. The U.S. is now using declassified information to pressure countries that are thinking of supporting Russia and “call them out” in the court of world opinion. North Korea has little fear of retaliation and is one of the few countries to openly support Russia. Kim hopes to gain needed food, advanced weapons technology, and hard currency. Putin critically needs artillery rounds, rockets, and missiles (North Korea has vast stockpiles of these weapons). The U.S. approach is a way to ask others if they really want to be on the side of Russia and North Korea. The challenge is that there are many countries that are not clearly on the side of the U.S. and Europe, and this is a crack that Putin is hoping to exploit.”

- General Robert Walsh

  “It says a lot about Putin that he has to go to the “bazaar” to restock the Russian invasion force. While this visit is not unprecedented (they've met there before), it does reflect negatively on Putin’s inability to attend the BRICS summit because of his war criminal indictment. However, the meeting is probably more important for Kim. Kim is close to having a nuclear-armed submarine and has recently conducted a series of successful nuclear-capable missile tests. Kim will probably come home with cash (or credits) and a new status as a strategic partner. He will likely do some “flexing” in front of the ROK, Japan, and the U.S. Not that many years ago, this would have reverberated throughout the national security hallways. Today, it blends into the background of bigger threats. Worst case, Putin has the loyalty of a nuclear-armed Kim to destabilize or ignite a crisis (with a shred of deniability). China watches all.”

- General Michael Groen