North Korea sends military delegation to Russia

Move signals increased cooperation after last month’s summit between Putin and Kim Jong Un.
By Cho Jinwoo for RFA Korean
2024.07.10
North Korea sends military delegation to Russia
Kim Won Jin/AFP

North Korea has sent a military delegation to Russia, state media reported, a move which South Korea said would be a violation of sanctions if any cooperation with Moscow leads to an increase in Pyongyang’s military power.

The delegation’s departure on Monday was revealed in a single sentence report published Tuesday on the website of the state-run Korea Central News Agency.

It is the first example of military cooperation between the two countries since they signed their “Treaty on the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” during last month’s summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The treaty stipulates cooperation similar to that of a military alliance.

According to KCNA, the delegation is made up of “military educationists” led by Kim Kum Chol, the president of Kim Il Sung Military University, the country’s top military school. Kim Jong Un attended the institution after returning to North Korea from boarding school in Switzerland.

The report did not mention the purpose of the trip, where the delegation would be headed, or how long they will be in Russia.

ENG_KOR_MILITARY DELEGATION_07102024.02.jpg
Portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin are seen near national flags of North Korea and Russia in Pyongyang on June 20, 2024, displayed for Putin's summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un where he won a pledge of "full support" on Ukraine and signed a mutual defense pact. (Kim Won Jin/AFP)

The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday that any cooperation that “directly or indirectly helps North Korea increase its military power is a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and is subject to monitoring and sanctions by the international community.”

The sanctions ban North Korea and Russia from arms trade and military cooperation, Lim Soo-suk, a spokesperson for the ministry told a press briefing on Tuesday.

“Our government, together with the international community, including allies and partners, will respond sternly and resolutely to any actions that threaten our security,” he said.

Closer cooperation likely

Matthew Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, said at a press briefing that Washington has made “quite clear our great concern about increased collaboration” between North Korea and Russia.

Korea experts in the United States said that the development signals confirmation that Russia and North Korea will cooperate more openly after last month’s summit.

“North Korea does not care about any sanctions, nor does Russia,” David Maxwell, vice president at the Center for Asia Pacific Strategy, told RFA Korean. “They are not an obstacle for this type of military exchange.”

Modernizing its military

Maxwell said it would be impossible to know what kind of information was being exchanged unless North Korea or Russia announces it, but he speculated that it could be general tactical training or higher level military operations. 

“North Korea desires to modernize its military and will likely seek any training and education that they can use to advance their military capabilities,” he said.

ENG_KOR_MILITARY DELEGATION_07102024.03.jpg
People look at the Rodong Sinmun newspaper showing the news on the visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin, in the Kaeson Station of the Pyongyang Metro in Pyongyang, June 20, 2024. (Kim Won Jin/AFP)

North Korea has long been making the point that the United Nations does not have authority over it, Bruce Bennett, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based RAND Corporation, told RFA.

“I think Kim has been making that clear for a long period of time and I think in particular he probably enjoys being able to violate the sanctions and get away with it,” he said. “I'm sure North Korea, which has a culture of special forces, would love to get some of the weapons systems that Russian special forces use.”

These could include  body armor, gunsights, jammers, or methods of intelligence collection and communications, he said.

Meanwhile, NK News, a South Korea-based outlet that specializes in news of the North, reported Tuesday that a Russian military aircraft landed in Pyongyang. Data from the flight tracking website Flight Radar 24 confirmed this, but North Korean media has yet to report it. 

Translated by Claire S. Lee and Leejin J. Chung. Edited by Eugene Whong.

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