[Fox News] Here’s what to expect from Putin’s ‘big agenda’ trip to North Korea

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For the first time in almost a quarter of a century, Russian President Vladimir Putin is visiting North Korea to meet with its leader, Kim Jong Un, starting Tuesday. Negotiations of a “strategic partnership” and a series of bilateral agreements are part of what the Russian media described as a “big agenda” for the meeting. Accompanied by an entourage of key players in his cabinet, which he revamped shortly after winning his fifth six-year term in March. The meeting between the two strongmen will reportedly be “closed,” and conducted “during walks” and while “drinking tea.”

Having analyzed Putin’s thinking, decision-making calculus and strategic ambitions, as well as Russia’s doctrine and strategy, here’s my assessment of what Putin is probably up to.

Locked in an existential conflict with the United States and the West over Ukraine, Putin is almost certainly creating an anti-U.S. coalition, on which he wants to rely during what will highly likely be a multiyear war. North Korea is on the list of top U.S. adversaries with whose leaders Putin has been deepening relations with, especially since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That list also includes China, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. 

A TIMELINE OF RUSSIA-NORTH KOREA RELATIONS AHEAD OF PUTIN’S MEETING WITH KIM JONG UN

Putin will use our foes to supplement Russia’s weapons arsenal and to help unbalance Washington, in order to slow down and disrupt its decision-making, especially during a crisis.

The Russian leader is acutely aware that the Biden administration seeks to bleed out Russia economically through sanctions and militarily by supplying weapons to Ukraine, sufficient to prolong the war and keep Russia in the fight but insufficient for Kyiv to win. 

Putin’s nuclear threats and Russia’s new post-Cold War nuclear doctrine, which envisions low-yield nuclear weapons as battlefield munitions usable in modern warfare, are responsible for President Biden’s fear of conflict escalation. These fears are justified as they are based on the intelligence community’s assessments and wargaming that revealed that Putin would indeed use nuclear weapons in a conflict such as the one in Ukraine if the U.S. and NATO were to intervene.

North Korea supports Russia’s so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine and is already providing Moscow with munitions to continue waging the war. According to South Korea’s defense minister, North Korea, by March, had sent to Russia 7,000 containers filled with 152-millimeter artillery shells, totaling as many as 3 million rounds.

In return, Moscow has plenty to offer Pyongyang. Considered by the Pentagon as a “near peer competitor,” Russia possesses one of the world’s most advanced weapons arsenal, which includes a wide range of missiles, hypersonic weapons, counter-space weapons — such as lasers, jammers, and clandestine spy satellites that can produce an on-orbit bombardment. 

Russia also boasts one of the world’s most extensive know-how in nuclear arms, space technology, anti-submarine warfare and cyberwarfare. The deepening of the military-industrial cooperation between Russia and North Korea has enormous strategic implications for U.S. security and the security of our allies.

RUSSIA, CHINA, IRAN AND NORTH KOREA RATCHETING UP THREATS AGAINST US, WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW

In response to President Biden’s lifting of the ban that prohibited Ukraine from using U.S.-provided weapons to strike deep inside Russia, Putin threatened to arm U.S. adversaries with long-range weapons. Last week, in a press conference with foreign journalists in Moscow, Putin said, “if someone thinks it is possible to supply such weapons to a war zone to attack our territory and create problems for us, why don’t we have the right to supply weapons of the same class to regions of the world where there will be strikes on sensitive facilities of those countries?”

The threshold for Putin to follow through on his threats can be assessed as high. Ordinarily, Russia does not share its most advanced weaponry, even with countries it publicly portrays as “strategic allies,” out of fear that they could be used eventually against Russia. Russian leaders have always been of the mindset that today’s friend could become tomorrow’s opponent. China, for example, is assessed by the Russian general staff as a long-term pacing threat, second only to Washington and NATO, although Russian leaders publicly refer to China as Russia’s close ally. Moscow, therefore, has opted for selling older versions of its weapons systems, for which it already has developed counter-measures and more advanced analogues. 

However, as the Biden administration expands the scope and scale of weaponry it is willing to supply Ukraine with, Putin’s fears are growing. He is concerned that an emboldened Ukraine may strike sensitive targets deep inside Russia, intentionally or by mistake, forcing him to respond forcefully, including possibly with a nuclear strike. Putin is uncertain, however, of Washington’s reaction if he crosses the nuclear threshold. He does not rule out the possibility of a large-scale World War III-like conflict, in which the West and East will be on opposite sides. For this reason, Putin probably wants to pre-position the necessary agreements, so he can enable U.S. adversaries to place the U.S. homeland and its allies, such as South Korea and Japan, at risk. 

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It is for a similar reason that Russia sent warships to Cuba for joint drills in the Caribbean, likely aiming to signal to Washington that Moscow has the will and the capability to enable third parties to inflict harm on the U.S., violating the Monroe Doctrine. Russia views Ukraine as part of its strategic security perimeter, and the Kremlin’s version of the Monroe Doctrine, which Washington has violated in Moscow’s view, by seeking NATO membership for Kyiv. 

Russia already has the capability to target our homeland from stand-off distances without having to enter U.S. sovereign airspace or territorial waters. However, Putin likely believes that creating an informal alliance of third parties capable of holding our homeland at risk kinetically can be a deterrent in itself, compelling Washington to refrain from deploying forces into the theater of an ongoing conflict in its perceived sphere of influence in Eurasia.

On Monday, Putin penned an editorial in the North Korean newspaper Nodon Shinmun titled “Russia and the DPRK: traditions of friendship and cooperation through the years.” In it, he provided justification for Russia and North Korea to join forces in “opposing” the “collective West.” The Russian dictator accused the United States of “seeking to impose on the world … [a] global neo-colonial dictatorship based on double standards.”

While this burgeoning partnership between Russia and North Korea presents no immediate threat to U.S. security, it elevates the risk of Putin and or Kim acting more boldly in contravention of U.S. policies.

During wartime, the risk of the emerging anti-U.S. coalition coordinating its actions and sharing its destructive kinetic and non-kinetic capabilities among one another to target the U.S. homeland will increase. 

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