How the North Korea-Russia alliance could damage Biden in 2024

An intensifying military alliance between Russia and North Korea could spell trouble for President Biden in November.

Pyongyang — already accused of supplying Moscow with vast amounts of munitions for its war in Ukraine in return for military technology — is suspected of planning a major provocative military action close to the U.S. presidential election, according to U.S. intelligence and experts.

That stormcloud on the horizon comes in addition to an expanded deal between the two countries that could be inked in a few weeks during an expected visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to North Korea to meet leader Kim Jong Un.

Such a deal would likely further entrench the grinding war in Ukraine and bolster Pyongyang’s nuclear aims, increasing tensions in the Asia-Pacific region during an already rocky year for Biden when it comes to foreign policy.

“This is definitely something that the Biden administration has to worry about,” said Harry Kazianis, the senior director of national security affairs at the Center for the National Interest think tank.

The alliance between Kim and Putin has been steadily growing since September, when the two first met to negotiate the purchase of North Korean artillery shells, rockets and missiles in exchange for valuable Russian military technology.

By November, U.S. and South Korean officials estimated Pyongyang had sent a million artillery shells to Moscow in addition to rockets and ballistic missiles — a violation of numerous U.N. sanctions on both countries — though North Korea firmly denies those claims.

The North Korean missiles have had a deadly impact in Ukraine, according to Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh.

“We’ve seen this deepening of partnership between North Korea and Russia. We know that the munitions being supplied by DPRK to Russia are being used on the battlefield in Ukraine,” she told reporters Thursday, referring to the country’s official name of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“We know that they have been successful in causing damage to infrastructure, causing civilians to be killed.”

Now, with Putin planning to visit Kim in the next several weeks, experts predict a further solidified military alliance. The union is beneficial for both Russia’s aim of grinding down Ukraine and North Korea’s nuclear and space ambitions, but it’s problematic for the rest of the globe.

“The relationship between Russia and North Korea makes Russia a little bit more dangerous and a little bit more problematic, but it makes North Korea a lot more dangerous and a lot more problematic,” said Markus Garlauskas director of the Indo-Pacific Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

Garlauskas told The Hill the alliance is likely to embolden Kim into levels of escalation he might not otherwise be willing to take, while also helping North Korea refine their capabilities and give them insights as to how they can use those in real conflicts or full-scale war.

Kim, in particular, is reportedly looking to Russia to help North Korea complete final steps needed to launch its first nuclear-armed submarine, as well as successfully get a spy satellite into space.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of talk about a very firm military partnership,” Kazianis said of the upcoming meeting. “I think the North Koreans are going to formalize their aid to Russia in terms of military hardware, missiles, all that type of stuff. And I think the Russians are going to be reciprocating by offering satellite equipment, [Intercontinental Ballistic Missile] technology, missile technology, helping with advanced artillery equipment.”

He said such an agreement is “extremely dangerous for the Biden administration” given North Korea’s already potent arsenal that could soon be bolstered by Soviet technology.

“I think the Biden administration has got to start thinking about what they can do to limit that impact and I don’t think they are right now,” he added.

Russia’s military, which is eating up ammunition on the battlefield faster than its factories can churn it out, will continue to need help from the outside, likely from North Korea’s surplus of old military stocks left over from the Korean War, according to Victor Cha, senior vice president for Asia and Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

In exchange, North Korea appears eager for a major military boost via Moscow after a series of setbacks, including Monday’s explosion of a spy satellite launch just minutes after liftoff — the third such failure in Pyongyang’s last four attempts to put a satellite into orbit.

That failure set off an angry barrage of at least 10 North Korea ballistic missiles fired from Pyongyang into the Sea of Japan on Thursday, according the U.S. and South Korean officials.

“Russia would not [normally] give important technology to North Korea … but because Putin needs this ammunition he’s probably willing to provide things that he or his predecessors were not willing to provide in the past,” Cha said.

“The Ukraine war is about the best thing that could have ever happened for North Korea,” he added. “It’s like the candy store has opened up…just because they’ve got Putin in a position where he needs North Korea more than North Korea needs Putin.”

Such an agreement between the two countries “definitely complicates the situation for Biden because Putin is now doing things with North Korea that not only affects the battlefield in Ukraine, but affects security in the Indo-Pacific,” Cha said. “It is quite concerning.”

What’s more, North Korea’s saber rattling could soon ramp up.”

Data compiled by CSIS shows that North Korea typically increases their military activity in U.S. presidential election years by nearly four times their usual pace.

But U.S. intelligence officials are further bracing for the isolated nation to undertake a major military action — potentially the largest in a decade — close to November, NBC News reported.

Kazianis said he fully expects a so-called “October surprise” from Pyongyang to be a nuclear test as the last couple of years North Korea has fallen off the U.S. media map

“He’s got to do something really big. The biggest thing he could do that he hasn’t done in years is a nuclear test,” Kazianis said. “The question for Kim is, does he make it a tactical nuclear weapons test that’s kind of small but can show a new military capability? Or does he go big and prove to the world that he has the ability to produce hydrogen bombs?”

That possibility has been bolstered by U.S. intelligence that points to increased activity at one of the North Korean nuclear test facilities.

In addition, satellite images from April 2 by Beyond Parallel, a CSIS project, showed activity at Tunnel No. 3 at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear facility.

“Any activity in or around Tunnel No. 3 is always of concern as both the United States and South Korea have assessed North Korea as having completed all the required preparations for conducting a seventh nuclear test from the tunnel,” the group noted.

Others, including Cha, predicted North Korea will continue its pace of missile demonstrations through the rest of this year, which could include a major ICBM test flight.

And North Korea does not appear to be swayed to give up on its military ambitions by any outside prodding. The U.S. has made no significant headway with the Kim regime since Biden has been in office, despite multiple offers to begin talks without any conditions. The one outreach attempt made this year garnered no response, officials told NBC.a

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