A Chronological Account of the Complex Relationship Between Russia and North Korea

by Ryan Lee
Russia-North Korea Relations

Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, has touched down in Russia for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin. This marks the second occasion the two leaders, often diplomatically isolated, have convened. While no official agenda has been released, U.S. authorities suggest that Putin may discuss acquiring artillery and ammunition from North Korea for Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine.

This potential request signals a role reversal compared to the Korean War of 1950-1953. During that period, the Soviet Union provided munitions, aircraft, and pilots to aid North Korea’s invasion of South Korea. Subsequently, the Soviet Union remained a key supporter of North Korea for many decades.

Though Russia and North Korea share common interests, their relationship has witnessed both highs and lows. Below is a chronology of significant milestones:


The Korean Peninsula’s colonization by Japan concludes with Japan’s defeat in World War II in 1945. However, the peninsula is split into a Soviet-supported North and a U.S.-endorsed South. The Soviet military establishes Kim Il Sung, a former anti-Japanese guerrilla leader, as the ruler of North Korea.


Kim Il Sung instigates a sudden invasion of South Korea in June 1950, igniting the Korean War. The conflict sees Chinese forces entering the fray, supported by Soviet air power. United Nations-led troops from South Korea and the United States, among other nations, attempt to repel the incursion. An armistice signed in 1953 halts hostilities but leaves the Korean Peninsula in a perpetual state of war.

Mid-1950s to 1960s

The Soviet Union remains committed to economically and militarily aiding North Korea, although the relationship deteriorates as Kim Il Sung consolidates his regime through violent purges of pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese groups. Aid from Moscow diminishes but persists until the end of the Cold War.


Amid escalating tensions between the Soviet Union and China, North Korea adopts an “equidistance” strategy, exploiting the discord between the two nations to secure aid from both. Despite attempts to reduce reliance on Moscow and Beijing, poor policy choices, exacerbated by heavy international borrowing, plunge North Korea into a prolonged economic crisis.


Mikhail Gorbachev’s ascendancy sees a shift in Soviet policy, with diminished aid to North Korea and greater openness toward South Korea. Diplomatic ties broaden between Seoul and Eastern European communist nations, increasingly isolating Pyongyang.


The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 deprives North Korea of a crucial economic and security ally. Moscow, now under Boris Yeltsin, exhibits little interest in perpetuating support for North Korea, instead seeking to attract South Korean investment. Kim Il Sung passes away in 1994, and North Korea undergoes a catastrophic famine later in the decade, resulting in estimated hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Early 2000s

After his inaugural presidential election in 2000, Vladimir Putin strives to rejuvenate Russia’s relations with North Korea. Putin’s visit to Pyongyang in July 2000 signals Moscow’s intent to reclaim its historical spheres of influence. Subsequent meetings between Putin and Kim Jong Il, Kim Il Sung’s successor, occur in 2001 and 2002.

Mid-to-Late 2000s

Despite renewed ties, Russia endorses United Nations sanctions against North Korea over its emerging nuclear program. Russia engages in multi-party discussions aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions. However, the talks, which also include the United States, China, South Korea, and Japan, collapse in December 2008.


Months after an August 2011 summit with then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Kim Jong Il dies. His son, Kim Jong Un, assumes power. Russia forgives approximately 90% of North Korea’s estimated $11 billion debt in 2012.


Kim Jong Un intensifies nuclear and missile development. Russia supports harsh Security Council sanctions that limit oil supplies and impose restrictions on North Korean labor exports.


Kim Jong Un seeks to engage diplomatically with the United States and South Korea, also strengthening ties with traditional allies like China and Russia. A summit with Putin occurs in Vladivostok in April 2019, although it yields no substantive outcomes.


While capitalizing on the global focus on Russia’s war in Ukraine to intensify its weapons tests, North Korea accuses the United States of instigating the conflict. Pyongyang officially recognizes the independence of Moscow-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and hints at a willingness to contribute to reconstruction efforts in those regions.

September 12, 2023

Kim Jong Un is in Russia for talks with Putin, with expectations that he will seek Russian economic and military support in exchange for supplies to bolster Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine. The discussions come after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s rare visit to North Korea in July, where a grand military parade displayed long-range missiles intended for targeting the U.S. mainland.

Contributions to this report were made by Big Big News journalist Jim Heintz in Tallinn, Estonia.

For more coverage, visit https://bigbignews.net/russia-ukraine

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Russia-North Korea Relations

What is the main focus of this text?

The main focus of this text is to provide a chronological account of the complex relationship between Russia and North Korea from 1945 to the present day.

Does the text cover events from the Cold War era?

Yes, the text discusses key events from the Cold War era, specifically detailing the Soviet Union’s support for North Korea and how relations evolved over time.

What is the significance of the meeting between Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin in September 2023?

The meeting between Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin in September 2023 is significant because it is expected that Kim will seek economic and military support from Russia in exchange for supplies that could aid Russia’s ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Does the text discuss the Korean War of 1950-1953?

Yes, the text delves into the Korean War, highlighting how the Soviet Union provided munitions, aircraft, and pilots to aid North Korea’s invasion of South Korea.

What role did the United States play in shaping Russia-North Korea relations?

The United States has had an indirect but notable influence. Its support for sanctions against North Korea and its role in multi-party talks are among the aspects covered in the text.

How have Russia-North Korea relations changed over the decades?

The relations have experienced highs and lows, ranging from strong Soviet support during the Cold War to diminished aid and a renewed focus on diplomatic ties in the early 2000s under Vladimir Putin.

Does the text mention any sanctions against North Korea?

Yes, the text mentions that Russia twice supported United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea, particularly over North Korea’s emerging nuclear weapons and missile program.

How does the text conclude?

The text concludes with the most recent developments, specifically the meeting between Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin on September 12, 2023, where discussions are expected to revolve around economic and military support.

Is the information in this text sourced?

Yes, contributions to this report were made by Big Big News journalist Jim Heintz in Tallinn, Estonia.

Where can I find more coverage related to this topic?

For more coverage, you can visit the link provided at the end of the text, which leads to Big Big News’ coverage of Russia-Ukraine relations.

More about Russia-North Korea Relations

  • Russia-North Korea Relations: A Historical Overview
  • Understanding the Korean War: Causes and Consequences
  • United Nations Security Council Resolutions on North Korea
  • Putin’s Foreign Policy: The Russian Perspective
  • North Korea’s Nuclear Program: A Timeline
  • U.S.-North Korea Diplomacy: A Brief History
  • China’s Role in North Korean Affairs
  • The Geopolitics of the Korean Peninsula
  • Russia-Ukraine Conflict: Current Developments
  • North Korea’s Economic Challenges and Relations with Russia

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John McAdams September 12, 2023 - 1:04 pm

Great read, but what about China’s role in all this? Seems like a big player to leave out, don’t you think?

Robert Lang September 12, 2023 - 4:27 pm

Excellent timeline. its good to know history, helps predict future moves.

Anna Smith September 12, 2023 - 5:38 pm

So Kim Jong Un is gonna help Russia in Ukraine? Thats like the blind leading the blind.

Mark Thompson September 12, 2023 - 8:42 pm

Wow, this is some deep dive into Russia and North Korea’s history. Really helpful for understanding the current dynamics.

Sally Jenkins September 13, 2023 - 12:27 am

didnt know that Russia supported sanctions against North Korea before. Thought they were always allies or something.

Emily Davis September 13, 2023 - 2:38 am

Super informative. It’s like a crash course on the Russia-North Korea relationship. Helps make sense of the news today.

Carl Williams September 13, 2023 - 6:37 am

The part about Putin and Kim Jong Un meeting for military aid was eye-opening. Makes you wonder what the future holds.

Nina Patel September 13, 2023 - 7:03 am

If you ask me, both countries are trying to capitalize on the geopolitical shifts. Risky business though.


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