North Korean leader Kim Jong-un Planned meeting with Vladimir Putin in Vladivostokas revealed by US intelligence gives us a new insight into Russia’s strategy in Ukraine and warns of greater dangers to the world.
As Kiev’s offensive enters its fourth month, with only limited success and some Russian counterattacks, it is becoming clear that Moscow’s plan may be to allow Ukraine to exhaust its men, tanks, shells and missiles against Ukraine The hardest edge of the Surovikin line. One might assume that once Ukraine’s Western-equipped and trained maneuver forces are crushed, Russia may be ready to launch its own major offensive as early as January.
After nearly two years of fighting, more likened to World War I than World War II, this plan is reminiscent of the Germans’ Kaiserschlacht, the spring offensive that began in March 1918 that pushed back the Allies and captured more territory than either side had previously in the taken during the previous four years of war. This was accomplished by the Germans bleeding the enemy dry while simultaneously building up vast reserves of men and ammunition behind the lines to unleash a devastating attack not dissimilar to what the British sought but failed to achieve. during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
The problem for Putin is that in his attempt to annihilate the Ukrainian armed forces, he uses large amounts of ammunition, especially artillery shells and ballistic missiles, as well as a lot of tanks. While Russia has a larger volume of military-industrial output than most of the West and continues to mobilize tens of thousands of troops every quarter, its core supplies still fall short of the level of expenditure required for a new major offensive.
This is where Pyongyang could come in. North Korea has sent large quantities of grenades, rockets and missiles to Russia for at least a year, with many of the transports organized by the late Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner group. In July, Putin’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was in Pyongyang, presumably negotiating further supplies. There he will have found an Aladdin cave full of hardware – North Korea has huge stockpiles of heavy weapons and artillery ammunition. Many are old and unreliable, but that won’t matter if Russia resorts to its old tactics for victory: exploit its sheer superiority and roll over the enemy like the Germans attempted in 1918.
The new Moscow-Pyongyang axis is a reversal of Cold War-era roles, when the Soviet Union and China were North Korea’s main arms suppliers from the start. Supply continued even after the collapse of the Soviet Union and only ended with the advent of UN sanctions. Russia’s support now stands in Kim’s favour, as it is a vehicle to retaliate against the US, and with Beijing’s no-doubt approval.
But supporting North Korea will not come without a heavy price. Paralyzed by Western sanctions, Pyongyang is in dire need of oil, food, fertilizer and raw materials, of which Russia has plenty.
A more troubling aspect of Russia’s burgeoning relationship is the potential to provide both hard currency and technology for North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, particularly for the development of ICBMs. As with providing other raw materials, Russia has tremendous capabilities in this area, including its own nuclear weapons know-how. This could fundamentally change Pyongyang’s pursuit of an effective nuclear delivery program.
Some analysts suggest US exposure of Kim’s planned visit could be enough to make him call it off. It won’t make any difference. The deep-rooted ties between the two countries are enough for this deadly collaboration to continue and develop without a meeting between the two leaders.
The question that must therefore be asked is: Why was there a need to plan such a meeting at all? For Kim, virtually tied to the borders of his own country, it would be an opportunity to present himself as a world statesman to his anti-Western fellow regiments. Putin, too, must show his people that he is not isolated. But maybe there is something else behind it. Putin may well have in mind a negotiating tool to encourage an already faltering US administration to press Kiev for a ceasefire.
Whatever the diplomatic double-dealing, the West should now help Ukraine prepare for the failure of its current offensive, giving Putin the opportunity to unleash his Imperial Battle.
The German offensive in 1918 failed due to exhaustion and lack of supplies. We cannot expect a similar fate with Putin’s next move: it is questionable whether Ukraine will have the resources to hold back the Russians, let alone launch their own version of the Hundred Days Offensive, which the Allies were able to re-launch arrived American forces drive the Germans back to their homeland.
If this 1918 apocalyptic scenario becomes a reality, a tremendous effort will be required from both the West and Ukraine – greater than has already been made. It will be extremely costly for everyone, and the potential consequences are too terrifying to imagine.
Colonel Richard Kemp is a former British Army officer