A new, Cold War-like agenda? Kim Jong Un gives Putin 'full support' for Ukraine war

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed Wednesday what they called a "comprehensive" diplomatic and defense pact that comes as the two nuclear-armed states have deepened ties amid their isolation from the West.

Kim told Putin he backed Russia's war in Ukraine.

The agreement was signed as Putin made a rare trip to North Korea, his first in nearly a quarter of a century. It was also Putin's first visit to the isolated country since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Here's what Putin's visit with Kim, which takes place through Wednesday, is all about.

As Ukraine war rages on: Russia's Vladimir Putin visits North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un: They've met before, right?

Right. Multiple times. Kim visited eastern Russia in September last year. He traveled there on a luxurious, battle-ready, enormous green train. The two leaders also held face-to-face-talks in 2019.

However, Putin last visited Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, in July 2000, four months after he was first elected president. He met Kim’s father, the country’s then-leader Kim Jong Il.

Russia and North Korea were close allies during the Cold War. Relations cooled with the breakup of the Soviet Union. Putin was expected to travel to Vietnam on Wednesday night for a state visit.

Bulletproof, drab green: Kim Jong Un ops on his train for meeting with Putin

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un visit the Vostochny Сosmodrome in Russia's far eastern Amur region, Russia, on Sept. 13, 2023.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un visit the Vostochny Сosmodrome in Russia's far eastern Amur region, Russia, on Sept. 13, 2023.

What will Putin and Kim − pariahs in the West − talk about?

Officially, before he left Russia, Putin was said to be simply paying a "friendly visit" to North Korea, according to the Kremlin. North Korea’s state news agency KCNA also announced the visit but offered no further details.

But there's a subtext to the trip, made explicit in Wednesday's agreement, though it was light on details.

Russia is running low on conventional weapons such as artillery shells and short-range ballistic missiles as its war in Ukraine drags on. Kim leads a county that's able to supply those munitions.

For North Korea, it's an opportunity to procure advanced military technologies and aid from Russia. Years of Western economic sanctions because of its nuclear weapons program have devastated North Korea's economy. Around 60% of the total population is believed to live below the poverty line, equating to 15 million people.

In a letter published by North Korea's state media on Tuesday, Putin said the two countries would "develop alternative mechanisms of trade and mutual settlements that are not controlled by the West."

On Wednesday, Putin said the partnership "provides, among other things, for mutual assistance in the event of aggression against one of the parties." Kim vowed "full support and solidarity" to Russia for its Ukraine war. He also called Russia "the most honest friend and ally," according to Russian state media.

Victor Cha, a former U.S. national security official now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said the summit presents the greatest threat to U.S. national security since the Korean War.

"This relationship, deep in history and reinvigorated by the war in Ukraine, undermines the security of Europe, Asia, and the U.S. homeland," he wrote in a report on Monday.

Any collaboration from North Korea with Russia on its war in Ukraine is something the White House is "deeply, deeply concerned," about, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a briefing Tuesday.

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What's the plan for the visit?

Planning for the summit was shrouded in secrecy as befits two leaders long known for being paranoid about security and assassination attempts. And North Korea doesn't get many visits from major foreign leaders.

Russian state media outlet RIA reported that Putin's visit was an official state one, meaning he was feted by an elaborate official welcoming ceremony, honor guards and musical performances. Putin gave Kim a luxury car, a tea set and a dagger as a gift, according to Russian state media.

Putin's entourage included several deputy prime ministers, Russia's foreign secretary and its new defense minister, Andrey Belousov. Putin stayed overnight in the Kumsusan Guest Palace in Pyongyang.

The palace-like structure was specially built for Chinese leader Xi Jinping's visit to North Korea in 2019. According to South Korean state media, it is surrounded by a small lake and forest and located near the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where the preserved bodies of Kim's father and grandfather lie in state.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Putin visits North Korea for summit with Kim Jong Un