Road To Self-Destruction: Why Russia’s Bid To Procure Arms From ‘Rogue’ North Korea Is A Bad Move

On arrival at the border town of Khasan, North Korean President Kim was received by the Russian Natural Resource Minister Alexander Kozlov. 

President Putin attended the Eastern Economic Forum at Vladivostok, the Pacific port closest to the North Korean border. No information about Putin’s travel schedule was available to Vostochny Cosmodrome, where he was said to meet with the North Korean visitor.

Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Kim saying that his visit to the Russian Federation is a “clear manifestation of the stand of the Workers Party of Korea (WPK) and the Korean government (DPRK) prioritizing the strategic importance of North Korea – Russia relations.”

What should we understand from Kim saying that his visit seeks to put North Korea – Russia relations of friendship and cooperation on a “fresh higher level?”

Kim traveled to the Russian border in a private bullet-proof train with his army chief, Marshal Pak Jong Chon, and Munitions Industry Department Director Jo Chun Ryong. Channel News Asia of 13 September reports that this indicates a Putin-Kim summit is likely to focus heavily on Russia and North Korea’s possible military cooperation.

Russia’s Needs

Experts believe Moscow will likely ask for artillery shells and anti-tank missiles from North Korea. Siemon Wezeman, a senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, says, “North Korea might have had large stocks of ammunition that Russia could use.”

Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Amur region.
Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un meeting at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Amur region.

Other experts say North Korea has the crude ammunition that Putin needs for his war in Ukraine. In contrast, Moscow has submarine, ballistic, and satellite technologies that could help Pyongyang leapfrog engineering challenges it suffers under economic sanctions.

Though North Korea has denied the supply of arms and ammunition to Russia, the White House warned North Korea last week that it “would pay a price if it supplied Russia with weapons for the conflict in Ukraine.”

Is Moscow Desperate?

Suppose it is true that Russia will ask for artillery shells and anti-tank missiles from North Korea in return for submarine, ballistic, and satellite technologies. In that case, Moscow will be doing a disservice to its regional and international peace commitment.

The first question that comes to mind is how Russia has compromised the quality of ammunition it will use in the war against Ukraine. At the same time, Ukraine has been supplied with sophisticated arms and ammunition, which NATO usually supplies to its members.

Seeking to buy sub-standard weapons from a backward economy like North Korea is incomprehensible. Perhaps Russia’s high-quality arms sector appears incapable of keeping up with the quantitative demands of the war. This indicates an abysmal shortage of ammunition – a reflection of Russia’s stature as a superpower.


To be in tango with North Korea will indicate Russia’s sorry state of global diplomatic isolation, military shortfalls, and sanctions–driven economic plights. It will cast aspersions on Russia’s claim to super-power status. Commentators will ask why Putin could not anticipate the consequences of his unilateral action in Ukraine.

Putin seems to be still gripped by the Soviet-era hangover. However, at the beginning of his ascension to power, he had given the impression that the Russian Federation would chart its new independent course.

The inference from seeking arms from North Korea is that Moscow indirectly recognizes the supremacy of China in its fight against the West and the US. Does it not indicate that Russia condescends to play second fiddle in the big game of China-US rivalry for power over world affairs?

After all, North Korea is the creation of Beijing, and Pyongyang would not hazard any initiative without the green signal from Beijing. Seeking ammunition from a rogue state like North Korea indicates that China does not mean to be in a security partnership with Russia.

Russia-North Korea summit’s revelation for analysts is Russia’s desperation for military hardware, particularly ammunition. With Russia behaving like a third-world developing country, the question arises whether Russia has lost the capability of producing its high-quality war material and is under pressure to compromise with low-grade ammunition from North Korea.

Many countries have taken advantage of Russia’s involvement in war with Ukraine. China and India are among such beneficiaries. But the sort of weapons on North Korea’s demand list is such that Beijing is not prepared to give to North Korea.

Therefore, Moscow must understand what a dangerous course it will be opting for by depending on military hardware supplies from North Korea in exchange for far more strategic and crucial items of military hardware.

Moscow must not overlook the dangers of finalizing an arms deal with a country like North Korea. Russia and China both have voted to sanction North Korea over its weapons of mass destruction in the past.

Russia and China do not want Southern-led unification of the Korean peninsula. Still, they are nervous that the world is uneasy about a spiraling unchecked North Korean nuclear missile program. North Korea has not been able to obtain advanced technology so far.


Russia would do well to recollect that despite China’s and Russia’s refusal, North Korea managed to strike a deal with Pakistan, where Benazir was in power then. She carried the nuclear formulae record in her overcoat when traveling to North Korea, and in return, Pakistan obtained the missile technology. Both are rogue states and responsible for terrorizing the world.

We don’t expect President Putin to walk a dangerous course. He must be able to differentiate between friends and foes.

At the SCO summit in Samarkand, Prime Minister Modi bluntly told Putin that this was not the era of war. He repeated his theory in G20 also. It carries significant meaning in the context of the times in which we are living.

By agreeing to obtain war material from North Korea, Moscow may lose whatever goodwill remains with its friends worldwide.