Watch CBS News

Putin-Kim Jong Un summit sees North Korean and Russian leaders cement ties in an anti-U.S. show of solidarity

Seoul, South Korea — Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement Wednesday during a summit in Pyongyang in a bid to expand their economic and military cooperation and cement a united front against Washington.

CBS News senior foreign correspondent Elizabeth Palmer says that while the greeting Kim offered Putin at the airport Tuesday night was warm, the men are fundamentally allies of convenience. The pact they signed Wednesday sees them both pledge to defend the other if attacked, but officials in the U.S. and other Western capitals believe Russia, above all, wants to ensure a steady supply of North Korean weapons for its war in Ukraine  — an ominous prospect for both Ukraine and its international backers.  

Concern has grown for months over an arms arrangement in which North Korea provides Russia with badly needed munitions in exchange for economic assistance and technology transfers that could enhance the threat posed by Kim's nuclear weapons and missile program.

A pool photograph distributed by the Russian state agency Sputnik shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin shaking hands after a welcoming ceremony at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, June 19, 2024. GAVRIIL GRIGOROV/POOL/AFP/Getty

Russian state media said Putin and Kim spoke face-to-face for about two hours in a meeting that was originally planned for one hour.

Kim vows "full support" for Russia amid Ukraine war

Speaking at the start of Wednesday's talks, Putin thanked Kim for North Korea's support for his war in Ukraine, part of what he said was a "fight against the imperialist hegemonistic policies of the U.S. and its satellites against the Russian Federation."

He called the agreement a "new fundamental document (that) will form the basis of our ties for the long term," hailing ties that he traced back to the Soviet army fighting the Japanese military on the Korean Peninsula in the closing moments of World War II, and Moscow's support for Pyongyang during the Korean War.

Kim said Moscow and Pyongyang's "fiery friendship" is now even closer than during Soviet times, and promised "full support and solidarity to the Russian government, army and people in carrying out the special military operation in Ukraine to protect sovereignty, security interests and territorial integrity."

CBS News' Palmer noted, however, that the mutual security aspect of the pact signed by the leaders on Wednesday was vague. Whereas the U.S. and its NATO allies are bound to come to each other's defense in no uncertain terms by the Article 5 clause in its founding charter, which says an attack on one country is considered an attack on all, Russia and North Korea's agreement calls only for "mutual assistance in the event of aggression against one of the parties." 

Why Putin is getting close to Kim Jong Un 03:10

Kim has consistently said that North Korea supports what he describes as a just action to protect Russia's interests, and he's echoed Putin's own remarks blaming the U.S.-led West's "hegemonic policy" for the war in Ukraine, despite the fact that it was his forces that launched a full-scale invasion of the neighboring country in February 2022.

It wasn't immediately clear what the mutual support pledged by the autocrats might look like, and no details of the agreement were initially made public.

Nonetheless, the document brought new assertions of lofty intentions from both sides, with Kim saying he had "no doubt that it will become a driving force accelerating the creation of a new multipolar world," and Russian state media quoting the country's Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Ushakov as saying it was "aimed at ensuring greater stability in the Northeast Asian region."  

Putin gives Kim another limo, gets portraits in return

Ushakov told reporters in Pyongyang that the two leaders exchanged gifts after their talks.

Putin presented Kim with a Russian-made Aurus limo and other gifts, including a tea set and a naval officer's dagger. It was the second Aurus gifted by Putin to his North Korean counterpart, after Kim apparently took a shine to the vehicle during a meeting between the men in September 2023 in Russia's Far East — a rare foray by Kim outside of his isolated nation's borders.

"When the head of the DPRK (North Korea) was at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, he looked at this car, Putin showed it to him personally, and like many people, Kim liked this car," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in February, after the first Aurus was delivered to Kim. "So, this decision was made… North Korea is our neighbor, our close neighbor, and we intend, and will continue, to develop our relations with all neighbors, including North Korea."

Russian President Vladimir Putin shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un his Russian-made Aurus limousine, Sept. 13, 2023, outside the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia's Far East region, ahead of their summit. Reuters

Ushakov said that Kim's presents to Putin on Wednesday included artworks depicting the Russian leader.

Deepening ties and alleged weapons transfers

North Korea is under heavy U.N. Security Council sanctions over its weapons program, while Russia also faces sanctions by the United States and its Western partners over its aggression in Ukraine.

U.S. and South Korean officials accuse the North of providing Russia with artillery, missiles and other military equipment for use in Ukraine, possibly in return for key military technologies and aid. A South Korean official told CBS News in September 2023, when Kim and Putin last met, that Seoul was concerned the Kim regime could be seeking nuclear-powered submarines and satellite technology from Russia, in addition to cooperation on conventional ammunition and missile technology. 

Both Pyongyang and Moscow deny accusations about North Korean weapons transfers, which would violate multiple U.N. Security Council sanctions that Russia previously endorsed.

Will U.S. take action if Russia and North Korea make a weapons deal? 04:12

Along with China, Russia has provided political cover for Kim's continuing efforts to advance his nuclear arsenal, repeatedly blocking U.S.-led efforts to impose fresh U.N. sanctions on the North over its weapons tests.

In March, a Russian veto at the United Nations ended monitoring of U.N. sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear program, prompting Western accusations that Moscow is seeking to avoid scrutiny as it buys weapons from Pyongyang for use in Ukraine. U.S. and South Korean officials have said they are discussing options for a new mechanism for monitoring the North.

South Korean analysts say that Kim will likely seek stronger economic benefits and more advanced military technologies from Russia, although his more sensitive discussions with Putin aren't likely to be made public.

While Kim's military nuclear program now includes developmental intercontinental ballistic missiles that can potentially reach the U.S. mainland, he may need outside technology help to meaningfully advance his program further. There are already possible signs that Russia is assisting North Korea with technologies related to space rockets and military reconnaissance satellites, which Kim has described as crucial for monitoring South Korea and enhancing the threat of his nuclear-capable missiles.

A pool photograph distributed by the Russian state agency Sputnik shows North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin at a welcoming ceremony at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, June 19, 2024. GAVRIIL GRIGOROV/POOL/AFP/Getty

The North may also seek to increase labor exports to Russia and other illicit activities to gain foreign currency in defiance of U.N. Security Council sanctions, according to a recent report by the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank run by South Korea's main spy agency. There will likely be talks about expanding cooperation in agriculture, fisheries and mining and further promoting Russian tourism to North Korea, the institute said.

U.S. and its allies react to Kim-Putin summit

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Putin's visit to North Korea illustrates how Russia tries, "in desperation, to develop and to strengthen relations with countries that can provide it with what it needs to continue the war of aggression that it started against Ukraine."

"North Korea is providing significant munitions to Russia ... and other weapons for use in Ukraine. Iran has been providing weaponry, including drones, that have been used against civilians and civilian infrastructure," Blinken told reporters following a meeting with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday.

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 United States, South Korea and Japan intensifying in a tit-for-tat cycle.

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

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.