The growing ties between Russia and North Korea, explained


North Korea is cashing in on Moscow’s need for friends.

As Russia’s isolation over its war in Ukraine continues to grow, it has seen increasing value in its relationship with North Korea.

Here’s how relations began for the two nations, and how they are becoming closer.


Communist North Korea was formed in the early days of the Cold War with backing from the Soviet Union.

North Korea later battled the South and its western allies to a stalemate in the 1950-1953 Korean War.

The country was heavily reliant on Soviet aid for decades.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, it sparked a deadly famine in the North.

Pyongyang’s leaders have tended to use Beijing and Moscow to balance each other.

But Kim Jong Un has had relatively cold relationships with both countries – after they joined the U.S. in imposing strict sanctions over North Korea’s nuclear tests.

(Location: Vladivostok, Russia)

In 2019, Kim and Putin met for the first time in a summit after Kim took steps to repair ties.

Since then, Russia has joined China in opposing new sanctions, vetoing a U.S.-led push in May and publicly splitting the United Nations Security Council since it started punishing Pyongyang in 2006.


North Korea has reciprocated with public support for Moscow after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

It was one of the only countries to recognize the independence of breakaway Ukrainian regions.

This week it expressed support for Russia’s proclaimed annexation of parts of Ukraine.

Some political analysts have theorized that this mutual support has ushered in a new geopolitical reality.

The U.S. has said that Russia approached North Korea about buying millions of rounds of ammunition and other weapons to refill its stockpile.

Both countries have denied that claim.


The vast majority of North Korea’s trade goes through China.

But Russia is a potentially important partner – especially for oil, experts say.

Moscow has denied breaking U.N. sanctions, but Russian tankers have been accused of helping evade caps on oil exports to North Korea.

Trade and human contact between the countries came to a nearly complete halt when the health crisis began, as North Korea imposed strict border lockdowns…

though local government reports seem to indicate that some of those restrictions will soon be lifted.

Russian officials have even discussed employing North Korean workers in the breakaway regions in Ukraine... despite a ban on arrangements like that by the UN Security Council.