A budding bromance between Russia and North Korea is sending the West into a frenzy. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently visited North Korea to meet with leader Kim Jong Un, which has heightened tensions between these two and the US. 

This was Putin’s first visit to the isolated nation in 24 years, and Kim was there to meet Putin in person. 

Last week, the two leaders met in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, to discuss and sign a mutual defence pact. This pact, a significant development in international relations, will see the two countries support each other in the event of potential aggression and sanctions from the West. The Kremlin said the pact would replace previous declarations signed in 1961, 2000 and 2001. Kim has pledged to support Russia in the ongoing war against Ukraine.

The US and its allies in the region have strongly condemned the move. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a joint statement with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the move demonstrated that Russia had “very close” ties with what he called “authoritarian states like North Korea but also China and Iran”.

Stoltenberg accused North Korea, China and Iran of fuelling Russia in the war against Ukraine. “We are, of course, also concerned about the potential support that Russia provides to North Korea when it comes to supporting their missile and nuclear programs. We see how much military support Russia gets from North Korea but also from Iran and how China is propping up their war economy,” he said.

North Korea has enjoyed support from Russia, including blocking the renewal of a panel monitoring its activities after Russia blocked a UN resolution that would have extended the UN’s monitoring of North Korea sanctions. The UN Panel of Experts (PoE) was established to ensure countries comply with sanctions against North Korea. The sanctions remain. However, Russia’s veto means the PoE’s mandate expired in April 2024. 

All other UN Security Council members, including South Korea and Japan, supported the resolution. China chose not to vote either way.

As Russia and North Korea get closer, the US and its allies are putting on a grand show to them who’s boss, heightening tensions even further. The South Korean Navy revealed that the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the US aircraft carrier, is in South Korea for joint military exercises with South Korea and Japan. 

In a statement, the Navy said the carrier’s arrival demonstrates “the strong combined defence posture of the South Korea-US alliance and their firm resolve to respond to the escalating threats from North Korea.” The three countries agreed in August 2023 to hold annual joint military drills.

As the relationship between Pyongyang and Moscow evolves, the implications for global security and international relations remain uncertain. One thing is clear, however: the West is watching with keen interest, and the stakes are high.