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 Pyongyang is considering labourers for restoration projects in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine.
In his comments sent on 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 (KCNA) reported on Wednesday.
Pushilin’s message to Kim was timed for the August 15 anniversary of the Korean peninsula’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule at the end of World War II.
“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,” the report cited Pushilin’s letter as saying.
The report did not say whether Kim sent a message to Pushilin in response.
In July, North Korea recognised the so-called Donetsk (DPR) and Luhansk people’s republics (LPR) in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region as independent states.
The move made North Korea only the third country after Russia and Syria to recognise the two breakaway entities.
Kyiv immediately severed relations with Pyongyang over the move.
There are indications North Korea is reviewing plans to send workers for restoration projects in those regions, which could help its economy but violate United Nations Security Council sanctions over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles programme.
Donetsk’s foreign ministry has said its ambassador to Russia, Olga Makeeva, met with the 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 labour migration” following North Korea’s easing of pandemic border controls.
North Korea is reportedly having similar discussions with Luhansk.
In 2017, Russia backed sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council in response to a North Korean long-range missile test that required member states to repatriate all North Korean workers from their territories within 24 months.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price last month criticised 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”.
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.
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.
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 UN Security Council that has deepened over Russia’s war on Ukraine to accelerate his weapons development as he tries to cement the North as a nuclear power and negotiate a removal of crippling US-led sanctions from a position of strength.
North Korea has test-fired more than 30 missiles in 2022 alone, including its first flight test of an intercontinental ballistic missile in nearly five years. There are also indications the North is restoring tunnels at a nuclear testing site that was last active in 2017 in possible preparations to resume nuclear explosive tests.