Alliance fears as dangerous Putin wants joint drills with North Korea and China

Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu proposed to North Korean despot Kim Jong-un to have their military forces carry out a joint naval exercise, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency claimed.

Citing the South Korean National Intelligence Service, the news outlet added Mr Shoigu also proposed to invite China too to the drill.

The Russian official visited North Korea in late July to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, and is believed to have made his proposal then.

During the official visit, the first of its kind to Pyongyang since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Shoigu was also joined by a Chinese delegation.

International observers feared the visit may have been used to discuss an arms deal between Mr Kim and Mr Shoigu, but the South Korean report suggests Moscow is also ready to deepen its alliance with the hermit nation.

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Seoul’s intelligence agency told the National Assembly that, during his visit, Mr Shoigu had seemingly held a private meeting with Mr Kim to agree on broad military expansion, Yonhap reported.

This report comes two days after Alexander Matsegora, the Russian ambassador to North Korea, told his country’s state agency Tass he was not aware of any plans for Pyongyang to participate in trilateral military drills with Beijing and Moscow.

However, he added, a similar move would be appropriate given the US-led military exercises carried out in the region.

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Mr Matsegora likely referred to the Ulchi Freedom Shield – the large-scale military exercise led by Washington and involving the US and South Korea military forces carried out every summer to enhance the response to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile threats.

North Korea has often denounced these drills as military threats and responded to them by testing ballistic missiles.

Keeping the level of alert peak high, it was reported last week that Mr Kim had witnessed on Tuesday a military drill aimed at preparing his top commanders for an all-out war with South Korea, with the training including North Korean forces repelling an invasion and launching a counter-attack able to occupy the neighbouring country.

Fears Russia may be looking at North Korea to beef up its armament were fuelled in late August, when White House’s national security spokesman, John Kirby, claimed Vladimir Putin and Mr Kim had exchanged letters following Mr Shoigu’s visit as part of secret talks to obtain weapons.

The spokesman also described North Korea as a “rogue regime” from which Russia “has been actively seeking to acquire additional munitions”.

Worrying arms negotiations between the two nations, Mr Kirby added, “are actively advancing”.

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