The Ukraine crisis weakened relations between the West and Russia, which has forced Moscow to look for allies elsewhere. In his quest for friendly nations, it appears President Vladimir Putin has chosen North Korea, as Putin invited leader Kim Jong Un to Russia’s Victory Day celebration in May. This would be Kim’s first foreign visit as leader of the hermit kingdom.
While establishing deeper ties with North Korea, this invite could cause more backlash from the West. Russia announced the invite early Wednesday morning, but just hours later, reports revealed sophisticated hackers, which the United States government suspects work for North Korea, hacked into Sony Pictures. In addition to leaking sensitive corporate information, the hackers threatened terror attacks on any theater that showed the movie The Interview– a comedy portraying the assassination of Kim Jong-Un– which forced major theater chains to pull the movie. Without the major chains, Sony withdrew the movie altogether.
Due to their aggression against Ukraine, the West implemented many sanctions against Russia. These sanctions are slowly weakening Russia’s economy and the ruble continues to drop. Russia’s overtures to North Korea began soon after these sanctions took hold. Putin hosted North Korea’s head of state Kim Yong Nam at the Sochi Olympics and then sent the Russian minister of Far East development to North Korea. In April, Moscow sent Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Trutnev to Pyongyang for three days. After that trip, Russia eliminated 90% of North Korea’s $10 billion debt, which dated back to the Soviet Union. But it was not out of the goodness of Putin’s heart; Moscow needs North Korea’s permission to run a gas pipeline though it to South Korea. Russia’s Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak said Russia could use the remaining $1.09 billion to fund the pipeline and a railway.
In November, North Korea sent their alleged “number two” man Choe Ryong Hae, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau and secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, to Russia. Hoe discussed economics and economics with Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during the seven-day trip.