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Russia and North Korea sign a partnership agreement that appears to be the strongest since the Cold War

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed an agreement Wednesday pledging mutual aid if either country faces “aggression,” a strategic pact that comes about when both face escalating standoffs with the West.

Details of the deal were not immediately clear, but it could be the strongest bond between Moscow and Pyongyang since the end of the Cold War. Both leaders described it as a major upgrade in their relations, covering security, trade, investment, cultural and humanitarian ties.

The summit came as Putin visited North Korea for the first time in 24 years and the US and its allies expressed growing concern over a possible arms deal under which Pyongyang would provide Moscow with desperately needed ammunition for its war in Ukraine in exchange for economic aid and support. technology transfers that could amplify the threat posed by Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Kim said the two countries had a “fiery friendship” and that the deal was their “strongest treaty ever,” elevating the relationship to the level of an alliance. He pledged full support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Putin called it a “breakthrough document” that reflects a shared desire to take relations to the next level.

North Korea and the former Soviet Union signed a treaty in 1961 that experts said necessitated Moscow’s military intervention if the North were attacked. The agreement was rejected after the collapse of the USSR and replaced in 2000 with an agreement that provided weaker security guarantees. It was not immediately clear whether the new deal would provide a similar level of protection to the 1961 treaty.

Kim met Putin at the airport, where the two shook hands, hugged twice and rode in a limousine together. The huge motorcade rolled through the brightly lit streets of the capital, where buildings were decorated with giant Russian flags and portraits of Putin.

After spending the night in a state guesthouse, Putin was welcomed Wednesday morning at a ceremony in the city’s main square, filled with what seemed like tens of thousands of spectators, including children with balloons and people in matching red T-shirts . , white and blue national colors of both countries. The crowds lining the streets chanted “Welcome Putin” and waved flowers and flags.

Putin and Kim greeted a guard of honor and walked a red carpet. Kim introduced key members of his leadership, including Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui; top aide and ruling party secretary Jo Yong Won; and the leader’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong.

During their talks, Putin thanked Kim for North Korea’s support in Ukraine, part of what he said was a “struggle against the imperialist hegemonist policies of the US and its satellites against the Russian Federation.”

Putin praised ties he traced back to the Soviet army fighting the Japanese army on the Korean Peninsula at the end of World War II and Moscow’s support for Pyongyang during the Korean War.

It was not specified what type of support was promised in the agreement. The agreement statements by Putin and Kim did not specify what the “mutual assistance” would be in the event of aggression against either country – troops, equipment or any other form of support.

Kim has previously used similar language, consistently saying North Korea supports what he describes as a just move to protect Russian interests and blaming the crisis on the West’s “hegemonist policies.”

North Korea is under heavy sanctions from the UN Security Council over its weapons program, while Russia also faces sanctions from the US and its Western partners over its invasion of Ukraine.

U.S. and South Korean officials accuse the North of supplying Russia with artillery, missiles and other military equipment for use in Ukraine, possibly in exchange for key military technologies and aid. On Tuesday, a US State Department spokesperson said Washington has seen in recent months how North Korea has “illegally transferred dozens of ballistic missiles and more than 11,000 containers of munitions to support Russia’s war effort.”

Both Pyongyang and Moscow deny allegations of arms transfers, which would violate multiple U.N. Security Council sanctions that Russia had previously approved.

Along with China, Russia has provided political cover for Kim’s efforts to boost his nuclear arsenal, repeatedly blocking US-led efforts to impose new UN sanctions on the North over its weapons tests.

In March, a Russian veto in the Security Council ended oversight of U.N. sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear program, prompting Western accusations that Moscow is trying to avoid scrutiny while buying weapons from Pyongyang.

Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, told reporters in Pyongyang that the leaders exchanged gifts after the talks. Putin presented Kim with a Russian-made Aurus limousine and other gifts, including a tea set and a naval officer’s dagger. Ushakov said Kim’s gifts to Putin included artwork depicting the Russian leader.

Later, Putin and Kim attended a concert that featured marching soldiers, throwing weapons, dancing and patriotic songs. Putin clapped and spoke to Kim through an interpreter, saying something that made both laugh.

Putin also visited the Church of the Life-Giving Trinity in Pyongyang and donated a Trinity icon to the Orthodox Church.

At a dinner before leaving for Vietnam, Putin quoted a proverb that said “a close neighbor is better than a distant relative,” while Kim toasted the “immortality of the invincible relations between the DPRK and Russia, which is the envy of the world is up’.

Earlier, Putin said that in addition to security, the partnership would also include cooperation in political, trade, investment, cultural and humanitarian fields. He added that Russia will not rule out the development of military-technical cooperation with North Korea.

The Kremlin’s website states that they have also signed an agreement to build a road bridge on their border, and another on cooperation in healthcare, medical education and science.

In Washington, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Putin’s visit to North Korea illustrates how Russia is “desperately trying to develop and strengthen relations with countries that can provide it with what it needs to fight the war of aggression against which it has started to continue. Ukraine.”

Koo Byoungsam, spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said the Seoul government was still interpreting the results of the summit, including what Russia’s response might be if the North is attacked .

China is North Korea’s biggest ally and economic lifeline, accounting for the majority of the country’s trade. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lin Jian said high-level exchanges between Moscow and Pyongyang are “bilateral agreements between two sovereign states,” without providing a specific assessment of the agreements.

Sam Greene of the Center for European Policy Analysis said Putin’s trip to Pyongyang is an indication of how dependent he has been on some other countries since he invaded Ukraine. Previously, “it was always the North Koreans who came to Russia. It wasn’t the other way around,” he said.

The trip is a good way to “unnerve the West” by showing that Moscow has interests and influence beyond Ukraine, Greene added.

The North could also try to increase labor exports to Russia and other activities to gain foreign currency in defiance of U.N. sanctions, according to the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank run by South Korea’s top spy agency . Talks are likely to take place on expanding cooperation in agriculture, fishing and mining and on further promoting Russian tourism to North Korea, the institute said.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest point in years, with the pace of both Kim’s weapons tests and combined military exercises involving the US, South Korea and Japan intensifying.

The Koreas have also engaged in Cold War-style psychological warfare, with North Korea throwing tons of garbage on the South with balloons, and the South broadcasting anti-North Korean propaganda with its loudspeakers.

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