Kim Jong Un Swaps Trump With Putin in Fervid New Bromance

·4 min read
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

SEOUL—Eat your heart out, Donald Trump. Your ex-love Kim Jong Un has found a new love interest in the form of your old pal, Vladimir Putin.

The story of the budding Kim-Putin bromance is right there in expressions of mutual adoration on the occasion of “Liberation Day,” August 15, marking the Japanese surrender in World War II. Kim wished Putin “good health and big success in his responsible work for defending the sovereignty and interests of the country.” And Putin, on the same day, promised “to expand the comprehensive and constructive bilateral relations with common efforts.”

The exchange climaxed a relationship in which Kim has offered total support for Putin’s war in Ukraine—and may be sending North Korean soldiers and workers while Russians seem reluctant to fight what looks like a long, enervating struggle. As for Kim’s one-time affair with Trump, who claimed “We fell in love” at their summit in Singapore in June 2018, the bloom faded from that rose after the failure of their second summit in Hanoi in February 2019.

Not to worry. Kim in his letter to Putin was confident, as reported by Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency, that “friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries based on comradely friendship and militant unity would grow stronger in all fields on the basis of the agreements reached at the 2019 meeting in Vladivostok.”

Their meeting in the Russian Far Eastern port city in April 2019, about six weeks after the Trump-Kim bust-up in Hanoi, lasted only a few hours before Kim flew on to Beijing, but it sealed a relationship in which Russia’s invasion of Ukraine provided the ideal opportunity for Kim to build on the bond. All he had to do was promise unstinting support in Russia’s war against Ukrainian forces supported by their mutual foe, the United States and its NATO allies.

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Putin’s need for that kind of friendship was evident in his message in which he vowed “to expand the comprehensive and constructive bilateral relations with common efforts,” said KCNA. “This would entirely conform with the interests of the peoples of the two countries and contribute to strengthening the security and stability of the Korean peninsula and the whole of the Northeastern Asian region.”

For Russia and North Korea, however, there’s a potential upside: North Korea may provide much needed manpower to support depleted Russian forces in the Donetsk region that has been the focus of Russia’s military advance.

All of which, in the view of some analysts, would show how hard up both leaders are for friends in a hostile world.

“Neither has a lot of friends,” said Nicholas Eberstadt at the American Enterprise Institute. “You have to wonder what’s in this for North Korea.”

Why is North Korea “a cheerleader,” asked Eberstadt. “It has to do with revenue—if large sums of money are in the store. If Kim is a supplicant to Putin for the money his slave laborers might make in Ukraine, that suggests how desperate his finances are.”

Igot Korotchenko, described as a pundit on Russian TV’s Channel One, recently cited reports that “100,000 North Korean volunteers are prepared to come and take part in the conflict.” Indeed, said Korotchenko, if North Korea “expresses a desire to meet its international duty to fight against Ukrainian fascism, we should let them.”

That report may have grossly exaggerated the numbers, but North Korea along with Russia and Syria has recognized the newly minted Russian satellites of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent countries. KCNA reported that Denis Pushilin, leader of Donetsk, joined Putin in sending “heartfelt congratulations” to Kim on the occasion of Liberation Day.

The “people of the Donbas region,” said Pushilin, “are fighting to regain their freedom and justice of history today just as the Korean people did 77 years ago.”

Such adulation, said David Straub, a former U.S. diplomat in Seoul who has visited Pyongyang, betrays a certain weakness.

“Putin’s cuddling up to Kim Jong Un underlines his frustration, even desperation, about the international solidarity against his outrageous invasion of Ukraine,” Straub told The Daily Beast. “If you need North Korea as a friend, you’re really hurting.”

True, said Straub, “The closer relationship may result in such things as North Korea sending workers or soldiers to help Russia in Ukraine, but that would hurt Russia there more than help.”

With most Ukrainians already “united against Putin,” said Straub, “If Putin brings in North Koreans, their feelings against him will only intensify.”

As for Moscow helping North Korea, he said, Russia “might be able to provide a little gas and oil, but it has no money.” Even under Putin “it won't help North Korea with nuclear development. Their little public footsie game will only increase the international isolation of both.”

As for Trump, he’s said more than once that “Putin is smart,” even “a genius.” He’s also believed to have been in touch with Kim, though he hasn’t been known to claim they’re still “in love” from that séance in Singapore more than four years ago.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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