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Kim Jong Un is ready to start war, but he is restrained by more advantageous scenario - Bloomberg

Kim Jong Un is ready to start war, but he is restrained by more advantageous scenario - Bloomberg Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (Getty Images)

In recent weeks, the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, has made a series of statements indicating his desire and readiness to start a war with the South. However, there is a significant reason in Pyongyang to refrain from igniting the conflict, as the pace of economic growth in North Korea has reached its highest level in almost a decade due to arms sales to Russia, according to Bloomberg.

Since October, North Korea has sold Russia over 2 million artillery shells and several ballistic missiles. The cost of the transferred missiles may reach several million dollars each, and Russia will likely need to buy launchers for them from Pyongyang. Thus, the volume of North Korean equipment sold could reach billions of dollars, and the country's economy, combined with increased trade with China, may grow by 0.5% this year.

"Pyongyang’s sales of ballistic missiles, artillery shells, and other military equipment to sustain President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine is providing a jolt to an economy long isolated by international sanctions. While that may allow Kim to shun engagement with the West for years to come, it also reduces pressure on the 40-year-old leader to gamble on more drastic measures, including war," writes Bloomberg.

War threatens North Korean regime

In an article on the 38 North website, Robert Carlin and Siegfried Hecker argue that the North Korean leader has abandoned the long-awaited goal of normalizing relations with the United States.

"Pyongyang could be planning to move in ways that completely defy our calculations," the authors note, adding that this suggests the prospect of a military solution to the peninsula's split problem using its nuclear arsenal.

At the same time, Kim Jong Un is well aware that the use of nuclear weapons or war means the end of his regime. In the 2024 policy address, Kim promised that North Korea is ready for war but has no intention of starting it. He also escalated tension by firing artillery shells near Yeonpyeong Island, the site of fierce fighting in 2010.

However, the specter of a stunning response from the US and South Korea, which could destroy his state and leadership, has served as a restraining factor against more aggressive actions for years.

"He is not yet ready or desperate enough to opt for a collective suicide," said Chun Yung-woo, former chief envoy of South Korea in international nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea.

Currently, it is expected that cooperation between North Korea and Russia will deepen, and Putin may visit Pyongyang in the coming months.

South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wonsik said he believes that North Korea is preparing to send new types of tactical guided missiles to Moscow, which could help the Kremlin continue its bombing of Ukraine.

Two important elections

North Korea also has a history of escalating tension ahead of elections. One of the elections Kim is closely monitoring is the parliamentary elections in South Korea in April, which will determine whether the progressive Democratic Party, which supports rapprochement with Pyongyang, will retain control or lose to the conservative People Power Party of current President Yoon Suk Yeol.

Another crucial election for Kim this year is the U.S. presidential election, increasingly resembling a rematch between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Kim and Trump met three times and established friendly relations, interrupted only by letter exchanges, and all the while, Kim's nuclear and missile arsenal continued to grow.

Sue Kim, a former Korean analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency who now works for the American consulting firm LMI, said that the North Korean leader may have to weigh the consequences of more aggressive military actions both in the South Korean elections and the U.S. elections in November.

"Does it make sense for Kim to act now for the Seoul elections? Or is it more effective to wait it out until a bigger, more consequential election?" she questioned.

Military escalation on the Korean Peninsula

On January 5, North Korea fired around 200 artillery shells into the area of two South Korean islands on the western border – Yeonpyeongdo and Baengnyeongdo, prompting the evacuation of residents. The next day, the North Korean military fired an additional 60 shells.

On January 15, North Korea's missile command conducted a test of a solid-fuel medium-range ballistic missile equipped with a hypersonic maneuverable guided warhead.

On January 24, Pyongyang tested a new strategic cruise missile, the Pulhwasal-3-31.

North Korea's cooperation with Russia

In early January, White House National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby stated that Russia had purchased ballistic missiles from North Korea, which were then used for strikes in Ukraine.

According to The Wall Street Journal, North Korea may have provided Russia's military with several dozen ballistic missiles for strikes in Ukraine.

Later, information appeared that the occupiers targeted Kharkiv with North Korean missiles.

Russian ships are being loaded at a North Korean port, as indicated by satellite imagery.