North Korea, Russia sign mutual defense pact amid rising global tensions

North Korea and Russia have agreed to provide immediate military assistance to each other if either nation faces armed aggression, under a pact signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first visit to North Korea in 24 years.

The agreement revives a mutual defense arrangement initially established under a 1961 treaty between the Cold War allies, which was annulled in 1990 when the Soviet Union established diplomatic ties with South Korea. The new “comprehensive strategic partnership” was formalized by President Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Wednesday, marking one of the most significant moves by Moscow in Asia in recent years.

“If either side faces an armed invasion and is in a state of war, the other side will immediately use all available means to provide military and other assistance in accordance with Article 51 of the U.N. Charter and the laws of each country,” states Article 4 of the agreement.

Article 51 of the U.N. Charter affirms the right of member countries to individual or collective self-defense actions.

This pledge comes as both nations face increasing international isolation and amid growing concerns from the United States and its Asian allies over Russia’s potential support for North Korea, the only nation to have tested a nuclear weapon this century.

Kim echoed Putin’s sentiments, explicitly linking their deepening ties to countering “hegemonic and imperialist” policies of the West, particularly the United States and its support for Ukraine.

The agreement also stipulates that neither country will sign any treaty with a third party that infringes on the interests of the other, nor will they allow their territories to be used by any nation to compromise each other’s security and sovereignty.

The pact includes provisions for joint actions aimed at “strengthening defense capabilities to prevent war and ensure regional and international peace and security,” according to North Korean state media, KCNA.

South Korea and the White House have not yet commented on the agreement. Japan, however, expressed “grave concerns” about Putin’s openness to military technology cooperation with Pyongyang. China’s response, given its role as North Korea’s main political and economic benefactor, has been muted.

Washington and Seoul have become increasingly alarmed by the growing military cooperation between Russia and North Korea, accusing them of violating international laws by trading arms for use in Moscow’s war against Ukraine. Ukrainian officials have reported finding North Korean missile debris within their borders, allegations both Russia and North Korea deny.

Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak criticized Russia, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, for allowing what he described as “the most brazen nullification” of sanctions imposed on North Korea to curb its weapons development.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg remarked that the pact highlights the alignment of authoritarian powers.

During his visit to Pyongyang, his first since 2000, Putin thanked Kim for his unwavering support of Russian policies, including the war in Ukraine. Kim reaffirmed his “unconditional” support for all of Russia’s policies.

KCNA released the full text of the agreement on Thursday, which also includes cooperation on nuclear energy, space exploration, and food and energy security.

Cha Du Hyeogn, a former South Korean government official and current fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, noted that the mutual defense pledge resembles the 1961 treaty between North Korea and the Soviet Union. However, the reference to the U.N. Charter and national laws leaves room for interpretation regarding whether this agreement constitutes a formal alliance.

“It reflects Kim’s eagerness to solidify the agreement, while Putin appears more cautious,” Cha said.