Leader of Donetsk Calls for Ties With North Korea

SEOUL, South Korea — The head of Russian proxy forces in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region has sent a message to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un calling for cooperation amid signs the North is considering sending laborers for restoration projects in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine.

North Korea recognized last month Donetsk independence and Luhansk as independent nations. This was a result of Kyiv cutting diplomatic ties to Pyongyang.

Some indications suggest that North Korea might be reviewing its plans to send workers in the region for restoration work. However, this could have a negative impact on its economy and run into U.N. Security Council sanctions regarding its nukes program.

In his comments sent Monday, Donetsk separatist leader Denis Pushilin expressed hope that his Moscow-backed republic and North Korea could achieve “equally beneficial bilateral cooperation agreeing with the interests” of their people, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday.

Continue reading: Donetsk, Luhansk, and Putin: Where are they?

Donetsk’s foreign ministry has said its ambassador to Russia, Olga Makeeva, met with North Korean ambassador to Russia Sin Hong Chol in Moscow on July 29 to discuss economic cooperation. According to the ministry, Sin then said there would be “great potential” for bilateral cooperation in trade and the “field of labor migration” following North Korea’s easing of pandemic border controls.

North Korea is said to be having similar conversations with Luhansk.

Russia supported the U.N. Security Council sanctions in 2017 as a response to North Korea’s long-range missile launch. The U.N. Security Council required all member countries to immediately repatriate any North Korean worker from their territory within 24 months.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price last month criticized Russian suggestions that North Korean workers could be employed for restoration projects in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine, saying that such arrangements would be “an affront to the sovereignty of Ukraine.”

This undated handout image, which was released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency KCNA (April 17, 2022), shows Kim Jong Un watching as he watches the firing of a new tactical-guided weapon.

STR/KCNA VIA KNS/AFP via Getty Images

Price was referring to comments by Russian Ambassador to North Korea Alexander Matsegora, who told the Tass news agency that North Korean construction workers would potentially provide “very serious help” in rebuilding the Donbas region.

Pushilin’s message to Kim was timed for the Aug. 15 anniversary of the Korean Peninsula’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule at the end of World War II. He congratulated Kim over the anniversary and insisted that the “people of the Donbas region, too, are fighting to regain their freedom and justice of history today just as the Korean people did 77 years ago,” KCNA said.

The report didn’t say whether Kim sent a message to Pushilin in response.

Continue reading: The Ashes of Soviet Union: How North Korea Created a Nuclear Arsenal

Luhansk and Donetsk together make up the Donbas region, a mostly Russian-speaking region of steel factories, mines and other industries in Ukraine’s east. While separatists hold parts of the provinces since 2014 but Russian President Vladimir Putin only recognized their independence shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine. Syria is also the only nation to recognize their independence.

North Korea has repeatedly blamed the United States for the crisis in Ukraine, saying the West’s “hegemonic policy” justified Russian military actions in Ukraine to protect itself.

Kim has also been exploiting a division in the U.N. Security Council that has deepened over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to accelerate his weapons development as he tries to cement the North as a nuclear power and negotiate a removal of crippling U.S.-led sanctions from a position of strength.

In 2022, North Korea tested more than 30 missiles. This includes its first intercontinental ballistic missile flight in almost five years. In preparation for possible nuclear explosion tests, there are indications that the North may be restoring tunnels at an abandoned nuclear testing site.

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