In a historic move reminiscent of the Soviet era, Russia and North Korea have signed a mutual defense agreement. Just a week earlier, Russian nuclear submarines were patrolling off the coast of Cuba. These sentences, which echo the height of the Cold War, were hoped to be left behind after 1991. Yet, as the West continues to increase its military support to Ukraine, the specter of nuclear war has returned to haunt the world.

The Russian President was not bluffing when he threatened to arm regions against the US and its NATO allies, as they have been doing in Ukraine. On his first visit to Pyongyang since July 2000, Putin explicitly linked Russia’s deepening ties with North Korea to the West’s growing support for Ukraine, while codifying bilateral conomic cooperation that had been rapidly growing since the war. This new agreement, the complete text of which has yet to be publicized, contains a mutual defense clause in the case of aggression against either country. This mirrors the operative clause in the NATO agreement and effectively guarantees that any direct action by a NATO member against Russia will spill over to the Pacific, turning the conflict into a two-front war.

Even more crucially, according to Putin, “Russia does not exclude for itself the development of military-technical cooperation with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” This means advanced Russian technology, including its work on hypersonic ballistic missiles, could soon be propelling North Korean warheads—a dangerous scenario for the US and its allies in the region, South Korea and Japan.

With trilateral military and economic cooperation deepening between Russia, China, and North Korea, a new Asian military bloc is quickly taking shape, to the detriment of the US-backed global order.

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