OPINION - Putin now has two dangerous bedfellows supplying arms for his war in Ukraine

Putin and Kim examine a rocket assembly hangar during their meeting at the Vostochny cosmodrome (AP)
Putin and Kim examine a rocket assembly hangar during their meeting at the Vostochny cosmodrome (AP)

The forced smiles of Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s far east seemed to say it all.

Despite their attempt at the Bruce Forsyth catchphrase “nice to see you, to see you, nice” this is a marriage of necessity more than romance. They need each other.

Putin is in search of munitions, especially 155mm shells and barrels for his artillery in Ukraine. Kim wants recognition above all, plus assistance with his satellite strategy, rocketry including hyper sonic missiles and boosting his nuclear arms projects.

Pyongyang also needs food aid for its starving population, though this is unlikely to be mentioned out loud, nor feature in any concluding communiqué.

Putin now has two dangerous bedfellows in supplying arms for his war in Ukraine — Iran for drones and missiles, North Korea for artillery and munitions. Both operate outside international law, and both have alarming nuclear ambitions.

The fighting is difficult in Ukraine for both sides. Ukraine’s summer offensive has not dealt a knock-out blow, but only the armchair generals of the US press expected this.

Russia has relied too heavily on artillery and rockets. “Lately they have been digging deep into old Soviet stock, and this is not very reliable,” a senior British general said yesterday. North Korean material is thought to be of equally variable quality.

Despite US criticism, the Ukrainian offensive in three sectors appears to be paying off. According to British analysis, by pinning large Russian forces in one sector, they have been able to generate momentum in several others. There are only seven weeks before the winter rains and mud set in. The war won’t be over this year.

The bid to break Russian attempts to blockade Black Sea ports and stop grain exports is gathering pace. Overnight, 10 cruise missiles struck the shipyards of Sevastopol in occupied Crimea, home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet. The mayor of the city has admitted that it has caused destruction and at least 24 casualties.

The US Congress is on the point of adopting a US Black Sea Security Act, by which US naval forces will enforce freedom of navigation in the Black Sea’s international waters. This is a renewed focus in the war, as Ukraine’s forces try to isolate Crimea.

Russia’s guns of August have depleted huge reserves of legacy munitions laid down in the depths of the Cold War. Relying on North Korea to feed the guns of September might prove to be a really bad idea as it brings reliance on the most unpredictable nuclear regime of all.

Robert Fox is defence editor