The recent summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Vostochny Cosmodrome had a troubling tone. It wasn’t just about Russia’s need for weapons; it was also about Putin leveraging North Korea’s nuclear capabilities against the United States and its allies in the Pacific.
Undoubtedly, the two countries are working on a deal that would provide military support to Russia, including artillery, anti-tank missiles, and potentially 100,000 volunteers to bolster Russian forces. However, what Russia is offering to North Korea in return presents a more significant threat to the United States, South Korea, and Japan.
According to Ukrainian Defense Intelligence Chief Kyrylo Budanov, North Korea has been supplying Russia with artillery ammunition for some time now. This exchange likely stems from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s visit to Pyongyang in July, coinciding with North Korea’s 70th Victory Day celebration.
It’s highly probable that Putin’s meeting with Kim was centered around how Russian technology could enhance North Korea’s military capabilities, particularly in the realms of military satellites, nuclear-powered submarines, and their existing nuclear and missile programs. The choice of the Vostochny Cosmodrome as the meeting location speaks volumes.
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The Vostochny Cosmodrome, established in 2016, was designed to facilitate Russia’s military and commercial space endeavors. It’s described as a 21st-century space launch facility capable of launching spacecraft to various orbits independently. Despite previous setbacks, it holds valuable knowledge in areas like jet propulsion and terminal guidance systems.
With Ukraine’s counteroffensive gaining momentum and doubts about Russia’s control over the Crimean Peninsula, Putin is seeking a game-changing solution for his faltering military operation. Partnering with North Korea for military assistance could provide an exit strategy. By introducing a North Korean nuclear wildcard, Putin aims to transform his current weakness in Ukraine into a position of strength.
The summit and its location were carefully orchestrated to convey a nuclear message to the United States. It appears to have had an impact, as reports suggest that the White House is reconsidering supplying Ukraine with ATACMS missiles.
Putin may be attempting to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine by raising the specter of a nuclear confrontation in the Pacific. While the United States has supported Ukraine with weapons, ammunition, and intelligence, the threat of transferring critical technology to enable a nuclear-capable North Korea to target the U.S. could compel the Biden administration and NATO to push for negotiations in Ukraine.
While Russian officials have previously hinted at using nuclear weapons, Washington recognizes that Kim Jong Un is more likely to employ them. The White House is now in need of a countermeasure.
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The threat of nuclear escalation is once again a concern. A desperate Putin seems willing to entrust North Korea with crucial technology to save himself and his regime. However, unlike storing tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, once Putin transfers this technology to Kim Jong Un, he loses control.
The situation has become increasingly precarious, and the implications are potentially radioactive.