North Korean leader Kim Jong Un showed off banned ballistic missiles to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu during a visit to a defense exhibition this week, according to North Korean state media.
The visit by Shoigu, the first by a Russian defense minister to North Korea since the fall of the Soviet Union, comes as the two countries seek to boost ties amid their shared rivalry with the United States.
North Korean media said Kim and Shoigu toured an exhibition of new weapons and military equipment, including some of the North’s ballistic missiles in multi-axle transporter launchers. Another image showed what analysts said appeared to be a new drone.
The display of the banned missiles is a significant development, as it suggests that Russia is no longer willing to enforce United Nations Security Council resolutions that prohibit North Korea from developing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
“We’ve come a long way from when North Korea would avoid showing off its nuclear capabilities when senior foreign dignitaries from Russia and China were in town,” said Ankit Panda of the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“The personal tour for Shoigu – and Shoigu’s willingness to be photographed with Kim in the course of this tour – is evidence that Moscow is complacent with North Korea’s ongoing nuclear modernization,” he said.
The visit by Shoigu also comes as Russia is facing isolation from the West over its invasion of Ukraine. Some analysts believe that Russia may be looking to North Korea for support, especially in the form of military equipment.
“While Russia has kept its official military cooperation with the North Korea limited, any veritable rupture in the so-called post-Cold War order may see Russia more willing to openly violate sanctions, especially given their relatively lax attitude to the shifts in North Korea’s nuclear status last year,” said Anthony Rinna, a specialist in Korea-Russia relations at the Sino-NK think tank.
The visit by Shoigu and the Chinese delegation is the first major opening up of North Korea to the world since the coronavirus pandemic. It is also a sign of the growing ties between North Korea and its two main allies, Russia and China.
The United States has condemned the visit by Shoigu and called on North Korea to “cease its destabilizing activities” and return to dialogue.
“We urge North Korea to engage in serious and sustained dialogue with the United States and its allies to achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” said a State Department spokesperson.
It remains to be seen what the long-term implications of the visit by Shoigu will be. However, it is clear that the relationship between North Korea and Russia is growing closer, and that this could have a significant impact on the security situation in the region.