Russia-Ukraine War: Kim’s Tour in Russia Highlights Risk of Increasing Military Ties

In a photo released by Russian state media on Friday, Kim Jong-un, center, viewed a fighter jet in Russia’s Far East.Credit…Mikhail Degtyarev, Governor of Russia’s Khabarovsk Krai, via Reuters

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, peeked his head into the cockpit of a fighter jet at a factory in the Russian Far East on Friday as he pressed ahead on a multiday tour of Russia that is enticing him at each stop with off-limits military technology.

Although Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, hasn’t promised Mr. Kim any of the weaponry and has vowed to abide by U.N. sanctions banning their transfer, the tour carried an implicit threat — an example of what analysts have said is a growing danger posed by Mr. Putin’s increasingly warm relationship with authoritarian leaders who can pose problems for the West.

At the same time, according to U.S. officials, Mr. Putin is cultivating new sources of arms and munitions for his war against Ukraine.

“I think it’s really serious,” said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, who previously led analyses of Russia by the U.S. intelligence community.

“It’s not just that it helps Russia mitigate Western pressure and sustain the war in Ukraine,” Ms. Kendall-Taylor said. “The more important consequence is Russia is actually amplifying other challenges that the United States faces.”

The Russian president is ever more loudly casting himself as the leader of a global resistance to the United States, as Washington escalates its isolation of Russia and increases its support for Ukraine.

Mr. Putin has embraced the ayatollah in Iran. He has cruised the Neva River in St. Petersburg with African autocrats. He has sat side by side in the Kremlin making small talk with Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad.

His efforts crescendoed this week as he hosted Mr. Kim, the leader of one of the world’s most repressive and militarized governments, and one with missiles capable of hitting the United States. The Russian president welcomed Mr. Kim on Wednesday to a remote space facility in the Amur region, where the North Korean leader toasted their “sacred struggle” against the “band of evil” in the West.

In an appearance Friday in Sochi, Russia, on the Black Sea alongside another dictator aligned against the West, President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, Mr. Putin said Washington’s belief that it is exceptional was “the main problem of today’s international relations.” He presented himself as the leader of a charge to end what he regularly calls a unipolar world dominated by the United States.

“The overwhelming majority of participants in international relations are fighting along with us to create a multipolar world, since this situation suits almost no one,” Mr. Putin said. “I say ‘almost’ because even those countries that are supposedly allies of the United States, I assure you, they also do not like this situation.”

Complete with chummy backslapping and fiery invective, Mr. Putin’s summits with fellow autocrats at times have come across as hollow swagger. The State Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, on Wednesday painted Mr. Putin as desperate, saying the Russian leader had failed to achieve his goals in Ukraine and now found himself “begging Kim Jong-un for help.”

But the growing closeness between Mr. Putin and other anti-Western authoritarian leaders, particularly in Iran and North Korea, carries serious implications for U.S. national security, analysts say, as an increasingly isolated Russia, armed with nuclear weapons and advanced military technology, finds less to lose in enabling Washington’s most dangerous foes.

Russia’s turn to Iran and North Korea for armaments has already driven Moscow closer to those nations in international negotiations — and has raised questions about what the Russian government might provide in return.

The more desperate the Russians get, Ms. Kendall-Taylor said, “the more willing they are going to be to give things like technology away — and it’s making our adversaries more capable, and it’s emboldening them.”

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