The Eastern Economic Forum was conceived as a demonstration of Russia’s “turn to the East.” However, the times when Vladimir Putin was able to gather the leaders of the most important Asia-Pacific countries in Vladivostok seem to be over. Heads of other states do not even participate
in the forum nowadays.
Nevertheless, Putin did meet with one foreign leader: North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un came to the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Amur Region.Mutual interest between Russia and North Korea
When preparations for this meeting became known, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said
that arms negotiations between Moscow and Pyongyang were “actively advancing,” promising that providing weapons to Russia “is not going to reflect well on North Korea and they will pay a price for this in the international community.” As for Moscow, he said it is now “looking to whatever source they can find” to buy scarce ammunition.
Indeed, the protracted war in Ukraine requires constant, huge amounts of ammunition. According to various estimates, Russian troops go through 20,000-60,000 artillery shells per day. And though the country’s leaders stubbornly insist that the production of shells has increased more than tenfold, reports periodically appear about a rising “shell shortage.”
Meanwhile, powerful artillery is an important element of North Korean strategy. After all, Seoul, the South Korean capital, sits just 24 kilometers from the 38th parallel that divides the Korean Peninsula. North Korea has more than 20,000 artillery pieces, most of which are copies of Soviet weapons systems. For decades, North Korean military factories have been producing the 152 mm and 122 mm shells that Russia so desperately needs today.
Last year, US intelligence already reported
the purchase of “millions” of shells from North Korea. At that time, it was suggested that the ammunition was purchased by PMC Wagner. However, many analysts noted that the total volume of transport traffic between North Korea and Russia does not correspond to supplies of “millions” of shells.
Suspicions about the possibility of such a deal surfaced with renewed vigor when Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu went on an official visit
to North Korea (for the first time since the collapse of the USSR!). He met with Kim Jong-un and attended an arms exhibition where the North Korean leader proudly demonstrated drones made in North Korea, as well as ICBMs produced in defiance of UN bans. In early September, Shoigu did not rule out that the Russian and North Korean armies might conduct joint exercises.
Shoigu’s North Korean colleague Kang Sun-nam, addressing
the audience at an “international conference” organized by the Russian Ministry of Defense, announced plans to “develop strategic cooperation between the two countries in the field of defense security.”
Experts suggest that in exchange for ammunition, Pyongyang could request not only food and energy, but also technology for building nuclear submarines and missiles. On September 8, Kim Jong-un took part in the launching ceremony of a nuclear-armed submarine. According to experts, it can carry missiles with a range of up to 2,500 km. However, the submarine itself is not nuclear. Judging by photographs, it is a converted diesel-electric submarine of the Soviet Project 633
class, already more than 70 years old. We should assume that Pyongyang, which has achieved considerable success in developing ground-based ballistic missiles (which, incidentally, trace their origins to Soviet Scud-B missiles), is now in dire need of the technologies necessary to develop a nuclear submarine fleet.
To be clear,