Russia-DPRK Space Cooperation: It’s Politics, Not Science

The recent Vostochny summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin has attracted much international attention. The fact that both leaders pledged to strengthen bilateral ties but did not release a joint statement invites speculation about the nature of their agreement. One area that did emerge as a clear priority in Moscow’s and Pyongyang’s future engagement is space and satellite technology. This issue brief looks at the motives behind Putin’s offer to help North Korea build satellites. It argues that Russia perceives its offer as a “win-win situation” that capitalizes on the opportunity to offer Pyongyang something of key strategic interest while reasserting its own self-understanding as a global space power. Still, providing technical assistance to the regime in Pyongyang is a low-hanging fruit, and will not serve to strengthen Moscow’s space capacity or international perception thereof.

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