June 27, 2024


Putin invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022 and on October 7, 2023 a second front in his “world war” was opened when Russian-trained Hamas terrorists attacked Israel. He has failed to open a third front by convincing China to invade Taiwan but last week he found an alternative. He signed a comprehensive security agreement with North Korea, a gulag with 26 million starving people and a small nuclear arsenal, that poses as a nation-state. The two pledged to protect one another from the “West”, but it was an escalation designed to rattle the region. China looked askance at this incursion, America was concerned, Japan was shaken, and South Korea was enraged and vowed to ship weapons directly to Ukraine in its war against Russia if North Korea is bolstered militarily. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol called out the deal as a provocation: “It’s absurd that two parties with a history of launching wars of invasion — the Korean War and the war in Ukraine — are now vowing mutual military cooperation on the premise of a pre-emptive attack by the international community that will never happen.”

China reacted guardedly this week to the bilateral hook-up. To others, the maneuver smacked of desperation on Putin’s part and was undertaken to secure and reward North Korea for supplying his war machine with ammo and missiles. But it was definitely a step down in status. Putin is now aligned with Asia’s “alley cat” and not one of its “Asian Tigers”. North Korea’s GDP is puny, equivalent to 25 percent of Samsung’s annual revenues. By contrast, Japan’s economy is twice the size of Russia’s, or US$4.2 trillion in 2023, and South Korea’s is US$1.71 trillion, slightly smaller than Russia’s alleged GDP of US$1.86 trillion. Moscow’s deal with North Korea has aimed to upset Japan and South Korea which have been providing aid and funding for Ukraine and sanctions against Russia. But now both will increase their military might and are likely, thanks to Putin’s poisonous partnership, to build their own nuclear arsenals.

Naturally, Moscow’s mouthpiece, RT, boasted that the deal marks the beginning of a new world order and needed shift: “With the West-centered world order in decline, the strengthening of a new ‘power triangle’ in the East is a logical development”. But this deal is not trilateral and doesn’t include China. The truth is that Putin is piqued that his “friendship without limits” promise made with China hasn’t unfolded, mostly because he invaded Ukraine days later after signing a comprehensive deal without informing President Xi Jinping about his invasion ahead of time. Putin would have loved nothing better than for Beijing to have attacked Taiwan to divert the West’s attention from his genocide in Europe, but it hasn’t because America has provided iron-clad guarantees to protect the island-nation. Besides that, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, is another powerful alliance formed by Australia, India, Japan, and the United States to contain China and other possible threats. Thus, having been outmaneuvered, Putin opted to push emotional buttons by threatening to start another Korean War.

Conjecture about that war is not far-fetched. What has spooked many in Asia is that the language contained in the robust security agreement just signed by Russia and North Korea is identical to

that contained in a deal signed by the two countries 80 years ago that led to war. Among pledges, is that an attack against one is an attack on the other, which raises the stakes dramatically. In 1950, Josef Stalin (Putin’s hero) convinced North Korea’s leader (grandfather of Kim Jong Un) to join forces then to invade South Korea. Stalin also dragged China’s Mao Tse Tung into the fray. Their illegal invasion brought the United Nations into the war, with the US as principal participant, to help South Koreans. Casualties totaled 2.5 million before an armistice was signed in 1953 and the Korean Peninsula was permanently divided along the 38th parallel.  This time China won’t be dragged into an invasion of South Korea or Taiwan. China is preoccupied with serious economic and debt problems. Years of poor judgment has led to a monstrous real estate bubble and a shocking debt load carried by its international Belt and Road Initiative as well as by local governments due to housing and infrastructure overbuilding. Zombie cities exist across China, its middle class has been wiped out by the collapse in property values, and youth unemployment has reached double digits.

China wrestles with economic and unemployment issues, but also with the West’s backlash about Covid, supply chain protectionism, and its association with Russia’s vile regime and war-mongering. Beijing has been holding summits with Washington to sort out diplomatic and trade disagreements, and hosting a succession of European and American leaders and businessmen to its capital in order to woo back business. China’s activities with the West have also rankled Putin who is banned from visiting 123 countries because of outstanding arrest warrants for war crimes issued by the International Criminal Court. He is also unwelcome in many capitals because of his wars. But Kim Jong Un — also a pariah — was eager to roll out the red carpet and give Putin a royal welcome if only to nail down their sordid arms deals.

The two Koreas are divided by much more than a De-Militarized Zone. The North is impoverished and run by a monarchical maniac while the South, referred to as the “Miracle on the Han River”, transformed itself from postwar poverty into one of the world’s most vibrant and wealthy nations. The United Nations, United States, and others provided a “Marshall Plan” to help the country rebuild its infrastructure and reimagine its institutions and Koreans did the rest. The nation has invested in its people and now has the highest proportion of people with tertiary degrees in the world. That, plus flows of foreign investment because of its storied national work ethic, has helped South Korea build world-class technological, engineering, electronic, automotive, manufacturing, financial, and entertainment industries. Along the way, its 51.74 million people have also democratized their country, staunched corruption, and held in check the power of gigantic conglomerates, known as chaebols.

South Korea is an economic powerhouse with the 8th biggest army in the world and one of the world’s largest ammunition and weaponry industries. Seoul has been exporting military wares to the United States and Poland for re-export to Ukraine since the 2022 invasion. In 2023, it officially joined Ukraine’s alliance, and has not directly provided weapons to Ukraine but now threatens to do so if Russia arms North Korea. Putin warned that would be “a very big mistake”, hinting that Moscow would retaliate by supplying Pyongyang with technology for more nuclear weapons. Then he added that South Korea “shouldn’t worry” about the agreement, if Seoul isn’t planning any aggression against Pyongyang.

The Yoon government is on track to become the fourth largest arms exporter in the world by 2027. Last year, South Korea’s major ammunition maker increased supplies to Europe, mostly to Poland, to replenish supplies it had sent to Ukraine. Seoul has also “loaned” the United States 500,000 rounds of 155mm artillery shells to replenish its stores sent to Ukraine. And South Korea sold $13.7 billion worth of tanks, jets, and other arms to alliance members, and will sell billions more in equipment and ammunition this year.  On this junket, Putin flew only to North Korea and Vietnam. There was no strategic reason to go to Hanoi except to rattle the region and America. It was a reminder that Moscow not only started the Korean War, but backed and provided weapons to the North Vietnamese in the Vietnam War. That conflict also resulted in massive casualties, but not a stalemate as in Korea. America, Australia, and other anti-communist allies spent billions for years, and lost tens of thousands of lives, and in the end they lost.


Diane Francis is an expert on Canada, the United States, Canada-US relations, Silicon Valley, future technology, geopolitics, the Ukraine-Russia conflict, Putin, energy, business, and white-collar crime. Always provocative, her direct and forceful writing has established her international reputation in covering the personalities, trends, and financial backstories that affect companies, individuals, governments and societies. Her popular twitter feed on tech and corruption has more than 240,000 followers around the world.  An award-winning columnist, bestselling author, investigative journalist, speaker, and television commentator, she is Editor-at-Large at Canada’s National Post and a columnist for American Interest, Atlantic Council’s Ukraine Alert, and Kyiv Post. . In 1991, Francis became Editor of Canada’s Financial Post, the first woman editor of a national daily newspaper in Canada, a position she held until the paper was sold in 1998. She is the author of ten books, including Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country (2013, featured in a cover story in Foreign Policy), Who Owns Canada Now?: Old Money, New Money and the Future of Canadian Business (2008), and Immigration: The Economic Case (2002).