A Bird's Eye View

By Jimmy Cardinal
Posted 7/3/24

A couple of weeks ago Vladimir Putin took a trip to Pyongyang. During the visit, he and Kim Jong Un signed a new mutual defense pact. And while it could be easy to overreact to a meeting between two …

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A Bird's Eye View


A couple of weeks ago Vladimir Putin took a trip to Pyongyang. During the visit, he and Kim Jong Un signed a new mutual defense pact. And while it could be easy to overreact to a meeting between two leaders who are so clearly antagonistic to the United States, it remains to be seen how significant the meeting actually will end up being. Part of the motivation for the visit is that Putin seems eager to make sure that everyone knows that he still has friends after 90 countries met in Switzerland to create a Ukraine peace plan. That meeting, combined with new commitments from Europe and the U.S. for further military and monetary aid for Ukraine, means that Russia has to find allies of its own. When you compare the financial and military resources of the nations that were present at the meeting in Switzerland, North Korea doesn’t actually offer very much.

In addition, mutual defense pacts are supposed to act as deterrents, but both North Korea and Russia are nuclear powers, and their nuclear weapons provide way more deterrent than any defense pact between the two countries ever would. The pact also serves to potentially distance North Korea and Russia from China. China benefits economically from a stable Asia, despite what their rhetoric says at times, and this pact could encourage Kim, who has proven to be an unstable leader, to act more erratically, jeopardizing the regional stability China desires. That increase in instability would also lead to our allies, primarily Japan and South Korea, to create closer ties with the U.S., and China wants us involved in the region as little as possible.

It also might further involve our Asian allies in Ukraine as well and seems to have already done so. By involving North Korea in the Ukrainian conflict, it seems as though Russia has also involved South Korea. South Korea had previously not been sending arms to Ukraine, but after the mutual defense pact between Russia and North Korea, they announced that they might consider doing so now. South Korea has already been sending humanitarian aid to Ukraine, but Russia’s new agreement with North Korea may expand that backing to include arms as well.

However there are very real reasons to be concerned about the meeting. First and foremost, because both nations are nuclear powers, any alliance becomes a force multiplier. The distance created between Kim and Beijing is also concerning for the West because we also benefit from stability in the East. If Kim is going to listen to a fellow autocrat, we would prefer it be Xi Jinping who has way more to lose from global conflict than Putin does.

The alliance is also bad news for Ukraine. North Korea recently sent 10,000 shipping containers to Russia. South Korea’s Defense Minister estimated that those containers could hold up to five million artillery shells, something Russia badly needs on the frontlines of its war in Ukraine. The meeting also demonstrates that our enemies are becoming bolder and more confident. They know that here in the United States we are focused on the upcoming election, something that Putin and Kim don’t have to worry about in their autocracies. They are hoping that we are so focused on domestic issues that we can’t pay attention to their actions abroad.

But who was at the meeting in Pyongyang isn’t nearly as concerning for Ukraine as who wasn’t in attendance at the meeting in Switzerland, namely China. In addition, India and the UAE sent only low-level delegations. So while Europe and the U.S. are still behind Ukraine, there’s a growing hope in the rest of the world that Ukraine and Russia find some kind of peace, regardless of whether or not Ukraine loses land in that deal, that helps end disruptions to much-needed fuel and food supplies.

And the West could become much more friendly to Putin’s regime in the next seven months. As of the writing of this column, the far-right National Rally party took the lead in parliamentary elections in France, they would no doubt be much more open to a cease-fire peace in Ukraine that cedes land to Russia. And of course here in the United States a Trump administration would almost certainly cut off aid to Ukraine and force them to come to the table. So perhaps more than anything, the meeting in Pyongyang is a sign that Putin believes he can wait out the West in Ukraine. Time will tell if he’s right.