On May 9, Russia’s annual Victory Day celebration, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un praised Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war effort in Ukraine. This is the latest sign of the nations’ strengthening ties, following the White House’s March 30 announcement that the Kremlin is once again seeking to trade food and other supplies for munitions from Pyongyang.
In fact, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine appears to have drawn Pyongyang and Moscow closer together than at any time since the fall of the Soviet Union. While legal and illegal cooperation never stopped, between the two countries’ “deepening rapprochement” and Russia’s pivot east as it loses access to global markets via Europe, it’s increasingly likely Russia will finally build energy pipelines to North Korea, integrate its energy grid, and increase its land-based trade links.
Starting as early as 1998, Moscow, Pyongyang, and Seoul have periodically discussed linking the three nations via railways and liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipelines. In 2017, South Korea’s then-President Moon Jae-in unveiled the New Northern Policy (NPP), “with an aim to strengthen economic and political cooperation with countries to the north of [South] Korea.” By 2018, the policy envisioned cooperation on “gas, rail, electricity, shipbuilding, job creation, the Northern Sea Route, seaports, agriculture, and fishing,” with much passing through North Korea.
While the NNP had some successes, projects generally failed to progress beyond talks. Now, between North Korea’s missile testing and sanctions imposed on Russia, any linkages either through Seoul’s northern neighbor or directly to Russia seem impossible for the foreseeable future.
In the short term, Russia desperately needs money, bodies, armaments, and other supplies to support its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. In the medium to long term, it needs to find markets to replace those it has lost. North Korea is desperate for energy (especially for its nuclear program and military), increased trade, food, medicine, technical expertise, and other forms of sanctions relief. Increasing Russia-North Korea linkages via pipelines, railways, and energy grids would help all parties achieve these goals.
Read the rest at The Diplomat.
Grant Turner is a Research Assistant at Yorktown Institute.