Does North Korea Support Russia? It Looks Like a Quid Pro Quo

Mohit Oberoi, CFA - Author

Mar. 24 2022, Published 12:04 p.m. ET

The world has been divided over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While one would have expected the global community to oppose Russia’s belligerence in one voice, that hasn’t been the case. The West has been unanimous though and has imposed crippling sanctions on Russia, which makes it the world’s most sanctioned country, ahead of even North Korea and Iran.

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While some countries have tried to be neutral amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict, some others support Russia. Does North Korea support Russia over its invasion of Ukraine?

Some countries are trying to be “neutral” amid the Russia-Ukraine war.

Given the fact that Russia is the aggressor in the Ukraine war, even neutrality might be seen as a sign of supporting Russia and President Vladimir Putin. Several countries like China and India, which are the top two countries by population, and share a good relationship with Russia, have abstained from voting against Russia at the U.N.

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North Korea isn't shy about its support for Russia.

Russia is short of overt allies in its war against Ukraine. However, North Korea is one of the countries that supports Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, both overtly and covertly.

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North Korea helps Russia and wants to put pressure on the U.S.

North Korea is among the handful of countries that have voted with Russia in the U.N. The other countries are Syria, Belarus, and Eritrea. All of these countries are run by dictatorial leaders. Even Putin is a dictator despite being elected by the Russian voters multiple times.

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Apart from voting in favor of Russia, North Korea has also put the blame for the turmoil in the region on the U.S. and its allies. China has also taken the same line and blamed NATO’s eastward expansion for the conflict. China has been opposing the Quad, which consists of the U.S., India, Japan, and Australia.

North Korea has been testing new missiles amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict. It's also suspected to have tested a new ICBM for the first time since 2017. One has to be politically naïve to not link the dots between the missile launch and the Russia-Ukraine war.

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North Korea tested missiles during the U.S.-China trade war. The purpose of these tests is to increase the pressure on the U.S.

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Why is North Korea helping Russia?

The final question would be, why is North Korea helping Russia? First, unlike democracies where governments might face pressure from the citizens, North Korea is free to make decisions at the whims and fancies of its supreme leader Kim Jong-un.

Second, North Korea and Russia have a common enemy — the U.S. and the West. China falls in the same category but can't overtly support Russia beyond a point given its global economic linkages. Since North Korea is a rogue state, it doesn't have any such considerations.

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Finally, it’s a case of quid pro quo. China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner. China and Russia have been supporting North Korea at the U.N. and blocked the most recent round of sanctions in January 2022. Now, it’s North Korea's turn to pay back.

Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University and director at Korea Risk Group, probably best summed up North Korea’s strategic rationale for supporting Russia. According to Lankov, from North Korea’s perspective “if somebody creates trouble for the United States and/or its allies, it’s always something to be welcomed.”


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