Skip to main content

Putin’s Asian Diplomacy: Defense Pacts with North Korea and Cooperation with Vietnam

June 27, 20242:30

Vladimir Putin's recent trip to Asia resulted in new military and economic agreements that have added another layer of unpredictability to an already complex geopolitical landscape. Putin's mutual defense pact with North Korea has put some of its neighbors on high alert. And in Vietnam, President Lam and Putin signed 11 memorandums for cooperation in key areas including oil and gas exploration, nuclear science and technology, and economic and trade ties. 

Sung-Yoon Lee, a fellow with the Wilson Center’s Indo-Pacific Program, provides insights on the significance of Putin’s recent trip. He covers the potential impact on the war in Ukraine and regional reactions and concerns from South Korea, Japan, and China.

Video Transcript

  • This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

    So the two leaders are threatening to provide military assistance and more to the other in the event of aggression or attack against a partner state by any power. North Korea has not only an ample supply of munitions, but ample supply of eminently expendable manpower. The regime shows very little regard for human life. So I would not be surprised if North Korea starts sending laborers, technicians and even combat troops down the line to help Russia's war in Ukraine. 

    To date, South Korea has been quite reticent. Careful, if you will, and, not providing any lethal weapons directly to Ukraine out of concerns of its relationship with Russia. And that is South Korea's position on all other, combat zones. It does not provide lethal weapons to any combatant. But in the wake of Putin flouting international law and even talking about providing North Korea with sensitive military technology like nuclear powered submarine and satellite technology and so forth, the current South Korean government is now openly talking about considering sending lethal weapons to Ukraine 

    For Vietnam. Russia wants to go on continue to sell weapons to Vietnam, which is also contravention of EU and UN Security Council resolutions. But every nation has a different national interest, to put it mildly, I suppose, and Vietnam has an interest in continuing to purchase arms from Russia. 

    Japan is taking note, of course, Japan is very sensitive about Chinese threat to itself and in the Taiwan Strait and to the Korean Peninsula. So Japan is watching carefully. 

    China is watching carefully as well, because historically, the Chinese grow displeased when North Korea sort of inches away from China and moves closer to Russia. But after a while, they calm down and they try to coax North Korea back into their own orbit by giving North Korea more aid. So no one should be surprised if Kim Jong Un pops up in Beijing even next week or in the coming weeks. It's been five years since his last summit meeting with President Xi of China.


Sung-Yoon Lee

Sung-Yoon Lee

Former Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies and Assistant Professor, the Fletcher School, Tufts University
Read More

Hosted By

Indo-Pacific Program

The Indo-Pacific Program promotes policy debate and intellectual discussions on US interests in the Asia-Pacific as well as political, economic, security, and social issues relating to the world’s most populous and economically dynamic region.   Read more