With the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un came together Thursday in Russia. The meeting was the first time since 2019 that the two leaders met. Since then, Russia has invaded Ukraine and found itself in a protracted conflict, dug into trenches, and fought off mutinies from disillusioned oligarchs. Desperate, Moscow needs weapons — and Pyongyang is eager to provide. 

This, however, is not the first time the two countries have found themselves on the same side of a conflict. Following the Japanese departure of Korea in the aftermath of World War II, the country was divided between the Soviet-backed North and the U.S.-backed South. In 1950, with the support of fellow communist nations Russia and China, North Korea invaded the South. The proxy war between the USSR and the United States would end in 1953 and divide Korea in two, with the North forming close ties to Moscow. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korea was left without its main economic and military ally. In the years since, North Korea has attempted to normalize its relations with the United States, all while maintaining a hot-and-cold relationship with Russia. 

With a potential arms agreement between the two countries on the horizon, these former communist allies may return to their roots and deepen their military and economic relations — all while giving the United States the “cold shoulder.” Both countries could benefit from greater cooperation. Russia, in the middle of a war it expected to have won by now, could use North Korea’s vast military supplies. North Korea, suffering food and fuel shortages, could use Russian aid to keep citizens alive and Russian technology to bolster its nuclear submarine program. 

This potential agreement is part of the global realignment slowly taking form since the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. China, which shares a border with both Russia and North Korea, is a major variable in this realignment. Any agreement for North Korea to supply arms to Russia without interference from China would signal Xi Xingping’s quiet support. This outcome would not be shocking, considering Russia and China aim to form a bloc to rival the West which, in their view, has overpowered the U.S. dollar and dominates global supply chains

Russia and China have placed greater emphasis on forming multilateral institutions in search of countries to join this emerging counterweight to the West. These organizations also provide  opportunities for other adversaries of the West to connect and strengthen their influence. Recently, Iran — another country aiding Russia’s military capabilities — and Saudi Arabia were invited to join the BRICS geopolitical bloc, a group composed of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. BRICS includes some of the most populated and economically powerful countries in the world and gathers annually to coordinate multilateral agreements and goals. 

With Russia waging war against Ukraine, China inching closer to an invasion of Taiwan, North Korea building nuclear submarines, and Iran bolstering its nuclear programs, this global realignment is becoming one of the greatest policy priorities of the Biden administration. However, in the United States, support for Ukraine has decreased among conservative voters as Republican politicians have called for ending U.S. spending on the war. That is not to say there hasn’t been movement. In October of 2022, President Biden signed the CHIPS Act to weaken Chinese cybersecurity capacity. Just last week, President Biden met with the Vietnamese President, Vo Van Thuong, in Hanoi to deepen diplomatic ties and provide an alternative source of military supplies besides Russia. 

While Kim Jong Un’s visit to Russia is still ongoing, recent days have pointed towards a new era of foreign policy. On Wednesday, the North Korean leader touted the blossoming of a “100 year friendship” between the two countries. Later, Kim Jong Un is expected to travel to Vladivostok where he will be shown the military capabilities of Russia’s Pacific fleet. On Thursday, the Kremlin reported that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accepted an invitation to visit North Korea in October. 

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the diplomatic, economic, and military alliances between countries have been upended. Former enemies like Vietnam and the United States have found themselves working together. Similarly, the flame of long-dead alliances has been reignited between North Korea and Russia. Meanwhile, a significant portion of the Global South remains largely undecided in this new era of foreign relations. What’s most worth watching, however, is the way things unfold domestically. North Koreans live largely impoverished lives, China faces mounting economic obstacles, Russian leaders just squashed a mutiny from its largest mercenary group, Iranians have protested their government for months, and the United States Congress is considering impeaching Joe Biden for unclear reasons. Any of these domestic problems can force leaders to change their policy and move away from — or lean into — the international stage. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this current situation is that nobody knows how any of this will unfold. 

Senior Olivia Deelen is a Contributing Writer. Her email is odeelen@fandm.edu.