Seoul's spy agency says Russia has likely proposed North Korea to join three-way drills with China

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Russia has likely proposed that North Korea participate in three-way naval exercises with China, according to a lawmaker who attended a closed-door briefing with the director of South Korea's top spy agency Monday.

The briefing came days after Russia’s Ambassador to North Korea, Alexander Matsegora, told Russian media that including North Korea in joint military drills between Russia and China “seems appropriate.” Matsegora added it was his own point of view and that he wasn’t aware of any preparations, according to Russia's Tass news agency.

According to lawmaker Yoo Sang-bum, when South Korean National Intelligence Service Director Kim Kyou-hyun was asked about the possibility of such drills, he said Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu likely proposed holding trilateral naval exercises with North Korea and China while meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in July.

Kim Jong Un invited Shoigu to a major military parade in Pyongyang in July while vowing to expand military cooperation with Moscow, which U.S. officials say could involve North Korean supplies of artillery and other ammunition as Russian President Vladimir Putin reaches out to other countries for support in his war against Ukraine. Last week, the White House said Kim and Putin exchanged letters as Moscow looked to Pyongyang for more munitions.

Amid deepening nuclear tensions with Washington, Seoul and Tokyo, Kim Jong Un has been trying to boost the visibility of his partnerships with Moscow and Beijing as he seeks to break out of diplomatic isolation and have Pyongyang be a part of a united front against the United States.

Diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington has stalled since 2019 over disagreements over the crippling U.S.-led sanctions against North Korea and the North’s faltered steps to wind down its nuclear weapons and missiles program.

In the briefing, the service director Kim Kyou-hyun also said that North Korea’s recent testing activities suggest its warplanes were highly reliant on its tactical nuclear systems as its aims to achieve swift victory over the South if war breaks out, as its otherwise ill-equipped military would struggle to handle a prolonged war, according to lawmaker Yoo.

Kim has used the international focus on Russia’s war on Ukraine to dial up his weapons demonstrations, which have included more than 100 missile launches since the start of 2022. Kim’s testing spree has been punctuated by verbal threats of pre-emptive nuclear attacks against South Korea and other rivals if the North perceives its leadership as under threat.