A North Korea-Russia alliance is about more than weapons

Russia is hoping mainly for munitions for Ukraine, but both sides of a deal stand to gain lots more

Kim Jong Un stands next to Vladimir Putin.
Kim is likely excited that, for the first time in a while, a global power needs something from him
(Image credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko / POOL / AFP)

Earlier this week, the world woke up to an unsettling piece of news: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is reportedly planning a trip outside of his nation's airtight borders to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will discuss with him a munitions deal that might replenish Moscow's stockpile of weapons for the war in Ukraine. At the moment, the tête-à-tête is expected to take place sometime next week in the Russian city of Vladivostok, "which was the site of the two leaders' first and only meeting in April 2019," per The Wall Street Journal.

By U.S. officials' estimation, that Russia would solicit help from North Korea — an impoverished, isolated country with virtually zero allies — can only be interpreted as a sign of desperation. "I think it says a lot that Russia is having to turn to a country like North Korea to seek to bolster its defense capacity in a war that [it expected] would be over in a week," National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said at a White House briefing on Tuesday. Putin still "has a vast military capability available to him," spokesperson John Kirby told NPR last week, but "the war is taking a toll on his defense industrial base. … And that's why he's reaching out to countries like Iran for drones and North Korea for artillery ammunition."

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Brigid Kennedy

Brigid Kennedy worked at The Week from 2021 to 2023 as a staff writer, junior editor and then story editor, with an interest in U.S. politics, the economy and the music industry.