Russia and North Korea continue to develop increasingly close ties. The regimes announced a program this week titled the “year of friendship.” The deep links between the two countries could cause more strains in an already vulnerable relationship between Russia and the West.
The “year of friendship” means the Russian Foreign Ministry will “start a program of cultural exchanges with the regime in Pyongyang” specifically to take the bond between the Cold War allies to a “new high level.” The North Korean state media said the idea is “to mark the 70th anniversary of ‘Korea’s liberation and the victory in the great Patriotic War in Russia.’”
Russian President Vladimir Putin invited North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un to Moscow on May 9 to celebrate Victory Day, which is the anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. It will be the first international trip for Kim Jong-un since he took over in December 2011.
In 2014, Moscow moved towards Pyonyang after the West implemented sanctions against Russia due to their aggression against Ukraine. Putin hosted high-ranking North Korean official 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. It is understood that this action was a response to Russia’s need to push a gas pipeline through North Korea to continue selling gas to the South. Russia’s Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak said Russia could use the remaining $1.09 billion to fund the pipeline and a railway.
“It is still an open question whether the current crisis in Ukraine will result in any more substantial shifts in Russian policy toward North Korea, particularly in dealing with the nuclear and missile issues,” said North Korea expert Alexander Voronstov in June 2014. “With the West increasing pressure on Russia as a result of differences over Ukraine, the very fact that Moscow and Pyongyang are subject to US sanctions will objectively draw them together, as well as with China.”
North Korea needs a connection with Russia since China, their traditional ally, has shown signs of losing patience with Kim Jong-un. From The Guardian:
China barely disguised its irritation with Kim after he ordered North Korea’s third nuclear test in 2013 and the execution later that year of his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who had been instrumental in forging closer co-operation with Beijing. Chinese President Xi Jinping has yet to meet Kim; significantly, though, he has met South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye, several times.
This declaration occurred on the same day German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced she will not be in Moscow for the Victory Day parade.