SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA – North Korea is receiving invited delegates from Russia and China this week for the 70th anniversary celebrations of its self-proclaimed ‘Victory Day,’ an exceptional move in light of the ongoing border closures in place since early 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
July 27, 1953, marks the day the signing of a long-negotiated armistice agreement paused the Korean War. North Korea claims the 1950-1953 war was started by the U.S. and South Korea, and that it ultimately clenched victory.
North Korean state media on Wednesday published images of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu arriving at Pyongyang International Airport the night before to be greeted by his North Korean counterpart Kang Sun Nam.
The ‘goodwill mission of the Russian army and people will significantly contribute to developing [onto] a high stage the strategic and traditional DPRK-Russia friendly relations … in keeping with the demand of the times,’ KCNA said.
DPRK or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is North Korea’s official name.
In its statement, Russia’s Defense Ministry characterized the visit as one that will ‘help strengthen Russian-North Korean military ties and will be an important stage in the development of cooperation between the two countries.’
Anniversary events are expected to culminate in a large-scale nighttime parade on Thursday, in what is typically an elaborate show of North Korea’s various military hardware developed over the years.
A parade in February introduced prototypes of the now twice-tested solid-fueled Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile, in a grand finale of 16 ICBMs that were rolled out on transporter erector launchers to cap the late-night celebration.
This week’s high-profile visit by the Russian defense minister carries symbolic significance, with the possibility of Sergei Shoigu meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un being raised.
Analysts will be watching whether the trip could lead to boosted arms sales between Pyongyang and Moscow.
Washington previously accused North Korea of sending weapons and workers to aid Russia in its war against Ukraine. Both Moscow and Pyongyang dismissed the charge.
Meanwhile, China will be represented at the anniversary celebrations by the vice chairman of the Chinese National People’s Congress’ Standing Committee, Li Hongzhong, in a visit scheduled to begin Wednesday.
‘Having a high-level Chinese delegation visit North Korea and mark the occasion [of the 70th anniversary of the armistice of the Korean War] shows the high importance both sides attach to our bilateral ties,’ said China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning Tuesday.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said Seoul is watching how Russia and North Korea’s relationship evolves, adding that it hopes the relations moves the peninsula toward peace and stability.
Washington also voiced hopes that Russia and China will encourage North Korea from ‘threatening, unlawful behavior,’ underlining the potential role they can play in bringing Pyongyang back to the negotiating table.
‘The United States’ point of view on this has been quite consistent, which is that we are open to meeting with Pyongyang without preconditions and we continue to have a commitment for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,’ said State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel.
On U.S. Army private Travis King, who crossed into North Korea last week through the Joint Security Area at the DMZ, Vedant said he had no new updates. Pyongyang has also yet to make any public comments on the soldier believed to be in its custody.
Russia and China have both sided with North Korea at several United Nations Security Council meetings convened to condemn North Korea’s ballistic missile tests, outlawed under several UNSC resolutions.
North Korea has been on a record-setting run of ballistic missile tests since last year. This month alone, it has test fired its latest Hwasong-18 ICBM and launched four short-range ballistic missiles late in the night, local time.