North Korea and Russia's 'year of friendship': what does it mean?

Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin forge a 'pariah alliance' to 'poke a finger' at America and the West

Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin
(Image credit: 2015 Getty Images)

The leaders of Russia and North Korea have announced a strengthening of economic and political ties, declaring 2015 "a year of friendship".

With both nations the targets of international condemnation, and Kim Jong-un scheduled to make a landmark visit to Russia soon, what does this deal mean for the west?

Why have they made an agreement?

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The deal was made to commemorate the 70th anniversary of "Korea's liberation and the victory in the great Patriotic War in Russia" – references to the defeat of the Japanese and Nazi armies in 1945, according to The Guardian.

This "pariah alliance" comes at a time when both countries face international criticism and isolation from the West over their human rights record. Vladimir Putin has turned eastward as a result of crippling sanctions imposed by the West over the Kremlin's role in Ukraine, while Kim-Jong-un has been forced to find a new ally after his relations with China thawed recently.

Is this a new friendship?

No. As Doug Bandow points out in the National Interest, "the Democratic People's Republic of Korea exists only because of Russia's predecessor state". The links date back to the Soviet occupation of the North during the Second World War and Stalin's backing of Kim Il-sung's plans to invade the South in 1950. The "long-standing tradition of friendship and cooperation" has continued, with Putin and Kim's son Kim Jong-ill meeting on several occasions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) hugs North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (L) during their meeting in the far eastern city of Vladivostok, 23 August 2002. Talks are expected to focus on bilat

(Image credit: 2010 AFP)

What will the deal mean for both countries?

The deal will "develop the bilateral relations on to a new higher stage in various fields, including politics, economy and culture under a mutual agreement", according to North Korean state media.

It involves a significant amount of investment, with Russia confirming that it will cancel $10billion of North Korea's $11billion debt, and reinvest the rest in the country. Moscow is also offering to spend $25bn on North Korea's dilapidated rail network in return for access to the country's substantial mineral resources.

A series of joint military exercises involving the two nations have also been scheduled, and Kim Jong-un is "keen to get his hands on advanced military technology," reports the Daily Telegraph. Moscow also "conveniently" holds a veto in the UN Security Council which it could use to protect its new ally, the newspaper notes.

And for the West?

Russia, in its isolated state, is "clearly using North Korea as one way of poking its finger at the US," international policy expert L. Gordon Flake told Bloomberg. This latest development is likely to "further complicate the west's attempts to deal with an increasingly belligerent Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un's recalcitrant regime in Pyongyang," predicts The Guardian's Justin McCurry.

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