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Putin’s mutual defense treaty with Kim may backfire

Russian President Vladimir Putin has a very short list of countries on his list of available international travel destinations these days. He made a wise choice to travel to Pyongyang, where he could be feted as a fellow dictator and share relief from sanctions-imposed isolation.

However, Putin’s decision to sign a comprehensive mutual defense pact with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may ultimately be an own-goal rather than a strategic breakthrough – if, indeed, the South Korean government follows through on its pledge to transition from backfilling US and Polish stockpiles to directly providing military support to Ukraine.

Putin likely thought his visit to Pyongyang would reinforce South Korean paralysis regarding overt military support for Ukraine while expanding the scope and types of North Korean munitions available for Russia’s war efforts.

The North Korea-Russia relationship has flowered in recent months to include shared condemnation of perceived US imperialism, as well as Russia’s action to pull the plug on the UN Panel of Experts charged with investigating and recommending international sanctions for North Korean violations of unanimous resolutions against its nuclear and missile proliferation activities.

Despite these developments, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at a press conference on May 9 stated his desire to keep relations with Russia “as smooth as possible” and reaffirmed South Korea’s policy of not providing military weaponry directly to Ukraine.

Regarding South Korea’s reliability as a like-minded partner, South Korea’s rhetorical overtures prior to the Kim-Putin summit generated many questions from EU and British diplomatic representatives with whom I had conversations a week prior to Putin’s