Kim, Putin Meet in Russia’s Far East as Spectre of Arms Deal Looms

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 13, sparking concerns over a potential arms deal between the two pariah states. Both countries are subject to heavy international sanctions.

Meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East, the two leaders, aside from denouncing Western hegemony, are also thought to have discussed co-operation on military and food aid, although the exact details of the five-hour discussion remain murky.

Bartering food for weapons

North Korea, with a stockpile of weapons believed to be compatible with Russian weapon systems, is reportedly looking to trade weapons for food as the country finds itself increasingly impoverished from sanctions. UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions firmly prohibit the trade of weapons with North Korea and violating these resolutions would likely prompt an international backlash, driving both Russia and North Korea into further isolation.

While the U.S. threatens further sanctions in the event of a North Korea-Russia arms deal, China, each country’s largest trading partner, likely would have more influence in preventing such a deal.

North Korea’s push into the final frontier

The Kim-Putin meeting at the spaceport is doubly concerning given Pyongyang’s two failed attempts to launch spy satellites earlier this year and its broader goal of improving military surveillance capabilities. Russia’s co-operation with other major spacefaring countries has dwindled due to its invasion of Ukraine, but Moscow has built, and continues to grow, ‘space alliances’ with other like-minded countries such as North Korea.

For now, North Korea seems to be focused on more earthly endeavours, falling back on tried-and-true methods of disruption: just an hour before the Kim-Putin meeting, North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles that landed in the Sea of Japan. South Korea denounced the launch as a violation of UNSC resolutions, and Japan protested through diplomatic channels in Beijing.