In Russia, One Despot Begs Another for Arms
Kim Jong Un, once called the “Shining Sun” by his terrified and deluded subjects in North Korea, has arrived in Russia to conduct business with his fellow explorer of the depths of depravity, Vladimir Putin. Kim travels in a massive bullet-proof train so laden with metal plating that it can only move “at a glacial pace compared to most modern trains.”
Of what is Kim so desperately afraid that he only travels while guarded by a huge security detail in the locomotive equivalent of a lead casket?
While armchair psychologists might ponder the sources of the Sun’s paranoia, the more immediate question is what agreement Putin and Kim will reach upon meeting. Whatever noise various spokespersons for this despotic duo make about agricultural partnerships or other rather mundane matters, the real issue is what Russia is hoping to obtain from the North Korean dictator.
Retiring Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Mark Milley says that Putin is meeting Kim “with a tin cup in hand asking for weapons munitions and support.” Why? Because Russia is running short on the military hardware needed to continue its aggression against the Ukraine.
Historian and Russia analyst Mark Galeotti recently noted that Russia’s “stocks (of missiles and drones) are being depleted at a quicker rate than they can actually build them.” Significantly, even Putin has acknowledged this: In June, he admitted that Russian supplies of “high-precision ammunition, communications equipment, aircraft, drones, and so on” are inadequate for its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
So, as the Associated Press reports, “Kim is expected to seek economic aid and military technology for his impoverished country, and, in a twist, appears to have something Putin desperately needs: munitions for Russia’s grueling war in Ukraine.” Some analysts believe “North Korea has tens of millions of compatible Soviet-era artillery shells and rockets that could be a huge boost for Russia’s war efforts.”
Behind this, however, there lurks another real possibility — that Russia will provide North Korea with technical data to help Kim and his henchmen better develop nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Should North Korea enhance its nuclear arms program to the point that it realistically threatens not only South Korea but, as a surrogate for China, Taiwan or even Japan, grave danger to our friends and allies would ensue and America would need to decide whether to wait until thousands, perhaps millions, of people are murdered or to act to prevent such slaughter. As to the latter, there are several options, none of them lethal but all that would stop North Korea from fulfilling its murderous intent.
More immediately, Russia’s inability to win its war against Ukraine is a stunning comeuppance for Vladimir Putin and those enabling his regime. Over the past two decades, Putin “has cultivated a foreign policy that consecrated mutual, if unequal, support for respective systems of repression and corruption” with countries that once were in the orbit of the defunct Soviet Union, writes scholar Daniel Baer. Now, with this summer’s almost successful insurrection by mercenary forces (the Wagner group) and Putin’s inability to sustain his attack on Ukraine without assistance from one of the world’s poorest and perhaps most alienated nations, North Korea, the Russian tyrant’s rule seems more tenuous than at any time since he assumed office.
The United States and our allies have long-term plans to continue supporting Ukraine’s self-defense against Moscow’s ill-conceived and unjustified assault. Given the size and prosperity of the Western nations, Russia’s gambit with North Korea seems like a forlorn attempt to keep fighting a war it cannot win.
It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and each time anticipating a different result. This definition fits Putin’s bald escalation of his war against Ukraine: “More arms, more money, more men — and maybe this time, I’ll succeed!” His pride and insistence, combined with what must be a sense of mystification that his “easy victory” against Ukraine has become a quagmire, are egging him on, even as the harsh Ukrainian winter approaches.
As to Kim Jong Un, whatever titles he claims for himself — my personal favorite is the non-ironic “Brilliant Comrade” — his tragic and impoverished people remain oppressed, victimized, and caught in web of political fantasy. Ultimately, no bullet-proof train will safeguard him from the judgment of a just Creator. Nor will any of Vladimir Putin’s many palaces afford him escape from the One “to Whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). May these men and many around them come to repentance and faith — and transformed political leadership — before that awesome judgment occurs.
Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.