For several decades, North Korea has masterfully balanced its relations with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Russia, maintaining a relationship with the latter that is both complex and ever-changing.
The dynamics have shifted notably since Russia found itself sanctioned and isolated by the international community following its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Since then, North Korea and Russia have grown increasingly close, as recently seen when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited eastern Russia, where he held a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week.
After a six-day visit, Mr. Kim returned to Pyongyang on Sunday.
Sanctioned by the international community, North Korea desperately needs Russian technology for nuclear weapons, satellite development, and food production.
Similarly, Russia, also facing sanctions, urgently seeks to replenish its dwindling front-line supplies with large quantities of ammunition from North Korea.
Before the summit, when asked whether Russia would assist North Korea in developing artificial satellites, Mr. Putin confirmed this was a primary reason for their meeting.
Both sides appear willing to overlook the threat of escalated international sanctions against them.
During their summit, Mr. Kim vowed to “fully and unconditionally support” Moscow.
Rocket technology holds particular interest for Mr. Kim and his regime.
From Outward Support to Clandestine CyberattacksAccording to reports, North Korea has long eyed Russian technology, resorting to cyber theft to obtain it, and it is something that Moscow now appears ready to overlook despite recent reports such as one by Microsoft’s Threat Analysis Center (MTAC).
The MTAC report indicates that between March last year and this March, North Korean cyber operatives launched attacks on Russian aerospace research facilities and penetrated academic institutions engaged in research. Additionally, the operatives sent phishing emails to personnel within Russian diplomatic agencies.
The study further revealed that the countries most frequently targeted by North Korean cyberattacks during the same period included South Korea, Israel, Germany, and Russia.
The hacking groups, identified as ScarCruft and Lazarus, covertly installed digital backdoors within the company’s systems to exfiltrate sensitive information. While the full extent of the hackers’ achievements remains unclear, North Korea announced significant advancements in its ballistic missile program mere months after the cyber-attacks were initiated.
SPUTNIX, a private enterprise affiliated with the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Space Research Institute, lost a substantial amount of information to these cyber incursions. The report speculates that North Korea may have stolen critical technology related to the design of ultra-small satellite bodies.
Experts suggest North Korea’s successful launches of rockets equipped with reconnaissance satellites this year likely capitalized on its prior hacking exploits. These cyber activities appear crucial in advancing the country’s space technology.
Additionally, the report disclosed that in 2020, North Korean hackers penetrated the internal network of Russia’s Almaz-Antey, a leading manufacturer of surface-to-air missiles. The intruders pilfered various information, including developer personal data and proprietary details on missile components.
In 2019, North Korean cyber operatives also exfiltrated design blueprints from Russia’s Uralvagonzavod tank factory, the entity responsible for producing Russia’s next-generation T-14 Armata battle tank.
Moreover, the report highlighted the frequency of North Korean cyber-attacks against Russian defense corporations specializing in avant-garde weapon systems like hypersonic technologies and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
Military commentator Xia Loshan told The Epoch Times on Sept. 10 that both North Korea and Russia are in a desperate situation.
“While North Korea is eager to acquire military technology, the ultimate decision is not in their hands,” Mr. Xia stated, emphasizing that the alliance is precarious and likely unsustainable in the face of stringent international sanctions.
Independent analyst Zhuge Mingyang also weighed in.
“In a relationship marked more by utilitarian needs than genuine alliance, both nations recognize the other’s motivations," he told The Epoch Times.
"Moscow likely knows full well that Pyongyang is siphoning off its military technology but seems willing to turn a blind eye in exchange for much-needed ammunition—a clear example of a ‘friendship’ based on mutual expediency.”