Image: REUTERS/KCNA/Pool/Latin America News Agency

By Alex Pollock

On Wednesday 13 September, Kim Jong Un, the Supreme Leader of North Korea, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a rare summit held in eastern Russia. Mr Kim met with Mr Putin and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in his first trip outside of North Korea in four and a half years. The leaders discussed North Korea’s satellite and space programme, the ongoing war in Ukraine, and potential military cooperation. Mr Putin and Mr Kim met at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, where they discussed rocket engineering. Reports say Mr Kim “expressed great interest” in Russia’s space programme as North Korea has tried, and failed, to launch reconnaissance satellites twice in the last four months. While Mr Kim was in Russia, North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles, the first launch to take place without Mr Kim’s presence. Joining Mr Kim on the trip was Jo Chung Ryong, the director of North Korea’s Munitions Industry Department, suggesting the summit was heavily focussed on defence cooperation.

The potential for further cooperation between North Korea and Russia is unsettling the West, as US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller expressed his concern about the summit during a press briefing. “We have taken a number of actions already to sanction entities that brokered arms sales between North Korea and Russia, and we won’t hesitate to impose additional sanctions if appropriate,” he said. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also expressed concern over the meeting, saying that Russia needs to “tread carefully” in its dealings with North Korea due to the heavy sanctions placed on Pyongyang. The US said it would not hesitate to impose further sanctions should either country transfer weapons to the other. While both Moscow and Pyongyang denied that weapons transfers were discussed, Ukraine military intelligence officials report that North Korea has been supplying Russia with weaponry for the last month, as Russia is experiencing losses in resources as it continues to engage in war with Ukraine. Russia responded to the criticism by saying Moscow is complying with all international rules and has the right to develop “neighbourly relations” with North Korea. The specifics of what will constitute “neighbourly relations” are yet to be fully seen, however, there is a possibility that Russia will supply North Korea with monetary and food assistance, as any military or weapons transfers would violate international sanctions.

The potential for food assistance could do a lot to help North Koreans who are currently facing a multitude of humanitarian challenges. As one of the world’s most isolated countries, it’s difficult to get a clear picture of the life of North Koreans, however, some recent revelations from the North Korean government have given a glimpse into the condition of the country. Flooding in 2023 has significantly damaged several hectares of agricultural land, further exacerbating the country’s already critical food shortage. Mr Kim is highly selective of the aid he allows into North Korea and where it comes from. The high levels of persecution also make it difficult for the Christians in North Korea to reach out and help those around them. North Korea has been listed as number one on the Open Doors World Watch List for many years, only being overtaken by Afghanistan as the country where it is hardest to be a Christian after the Taliban takeover in 2021.

Despite this, it is interesting to note the Christian legacy within the Kim family. The great-grandparents of current Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un (Kim Hyong-jik and Kang Pan-sok) were Christians and raised former leader Kim Il Sung in a Christian home. Kim Hyong-jik attended a school run by Christian missionaries in Korea and later became a teacher at a Christian school where he was active in mission activities. Kim Il Sung attended Church services as a child before becoming an atheist in his teenage years and later founding the modern secular North Korean ideology that so strongly opposes religion. Given this history, the Church can pray that the Kim family will return to faith and that the seeds planted long ago within the family will bear fruit in the coming years.

While many news outlets are focusing on the potential negative impacts of this budding relationship between Russia and North Korea, from a Christian perspective, the Church should also seek the opportunities it could present for Kingdom advancement. According to the Joshua Project, Russia has a 57% Christian population (although only 1.41% evangelical), while the 26 million population of North Korea is recorded to be under 2% Christian. With so few opportunities to reach North Korea, any new relationship should be explored for potential ministry possibilities. May the Church not be distracted or deterred by the political or social angles of this relationship but seek a Kingdom perspective and prayerfully consider how the Lord is using such events for the furthering of His Kingdom.

Please join us in prayer for the following:

  • For the opening of doors in North Korea and for the Church to be ready to take advantage of the opportunities presented
  • For the legacy of Christianity within the Kim family to be restored and for Kim Jong Un to come to a saving knowledge of Christ
  • For the global Church to continue praying and interceding for North Korean believers