Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Hermit Kingdom

Vladimir Putin – Kim Jong Un Summit: A Partnership of Gangsters

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will reportedly travel to Vladivostok this month to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. The pair appears to be working toward an arms-for-technology deal that would see North Korea supply ammunition for the Russian military

Image: KCNA/North Korea State Media.
Image: KCNA/North Korea State Media.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will reportedly travel to Vladivostok this month to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. The pair appears to be working toward an arms-for-technology deal that would see North Korea supply ammunition for the Russian military. In return, Russia would provide military technologies North Korea cannot develop itself — technologies likely related to Pyongyang’s nuclear missile program.

This is a fitting meeting for both leaders. Both govern effectively as gangsters. They rule in the mafia-style, relying heavily on family, friends, and other long-time associates. Both treat political opponents as competitors to be eliminated, frequently with great brutality to warn others against intrigue or deception. Both corrupt the institutions of their own country and the international institutions in which they operate. Both engage in rampant criminality — smuggling, trafficking, and fraud — to raise external funds. Both treat state resources as a personal slush fund.

North Korea is More a Mafia State than Russia

North Korea is further along this path than Russia, having been governed by one family since its inception. Kim Il Sung was its first leader. His son governed next, and now his grandson does. All the relevant politicking in Pyongyang is personalistic: who is up or down in the eyes of the elite, who is in favor or falls out of it. Analysts watch for who stands closest to the leadership in public appearances, and family members almost always play a role. Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, has emerged as a crucial regime personality, and his half-brother was considered enough of a threat to be murdered overseas by regime agents. 

So rotted and ineffective are the formal institutions of North Korea — outside of the security services — that the country resembles a fiefdom more than a modern state.

Russia is not yet as bad, but it is sliding in this direction under Putin. After the death of Stalin, the Soviet Union was not governed in the personalistic style of North Korea. Rule was diffused through the oligarchy of the Politburo. This created something like institutions that stood apart from the individuals who held an office. For a brief period in the 1990s, Russia even had a genuine shot at democracy. 

Putin, of course, snuffed that out. He brought back all the worst instincts of Russia’s autocratic tradition — the corruption, the court politics, the groupthink and isolation, the paranoia. His ruling network — the siloviki — resembles the expanded kinship elite at the top of North Korea. Like a good mobster, Putin now routinely has his opponents pushed out windows, just as Kim knocked off his brother-in-law.

A Politicized Mafioso State Becomes a Cult of Personality

When mixed with politics, this mafia style leads to a cult of personality. The traditional mafia do not wish to displace the state. Rather they wish to operate around it, or corrupt it if necessary. In the film The Godfather, Don Corleone’s hope was that his son, who stood outside the family business, could participate in politics as a “civilian.”

The elites of Russia and North Korea do not aspire to this. They mix gangsterism with politics, and the result is a cult of personality as the mafia don becomes the state’s permanent political leader. 

This is most obvious in North Korea. While its original founders may have believed in Marxism-Leninism or Communism at the outset, Kim Il Sung quickly succumbed to the temptations of a personality cult. By the 1960s he was governing like a monarch, and statues of him were ubiquitous. The move to personalism elevated the role of family. Politics in North Korea became a dynastic struggle among Kim’s family and friends. By the 1970s, the North Korean monarchy began to act like a mafia-state, engaging in criminal enterprises to raise foreign currency it could not otherwise secure.

Putin has gone this direction too. He gradually eradicated Russian democracy. The country’s parties are now toothless. Elections are rigged. Putin has swapped the presidency and prime ministership to stay in power indefinitely and extended the duration of a presidential term to forestall elections. Corruption is endemic in the government.

Like will Recognize Like in Vladivostok

Putin and Kim govern in remarkably similar ways. They pretend to aspire to modernity but actually govern as feudal monarchs. They pretend to manage a country when, in fact, they corrupt and abuse it for narrow personal interests. They deal with opposition as inherently traitorous; opponents are murdered mafia-style. And they pretend to oversee an economy, when in fact they are pilfering it. Game will recognize game in Vladivostok. 

Dr. Robert E. Kelly ( is a professor in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University and 19FortyFive Contributing Editor.

Written By

Dr. Robert E. Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly; website) is a professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University. Dr. Kelly is now a 1945 Contributing Editor as well. 



  1. George Gordon Byron

    September 6, 2023 at 9:07 am

    The leaders of the Western world are not better, but worse.
    It is enough to know the history of the countries of the Western world.
    The bloody history of the Western countries is connected with the destruction by enslavement, the robbery of hundreds of countries and peoples.

  2. 404NotFound

    September 6, 2023 at 9:26 am

    Washington is fully or 100% responsible for the situation being seen today.

    US has gathered a (vast) veritable army of loyal minions and vassals, including selected jihadist groups in syria & elsewhere, for itself.

    That’s the reason or cause for moscow and pyongyang coming together today.

    Moscow and pyongyang are like 2 big boulders standing in the way of US-scripted utter world dominance.

    Uncle sam wants to ESTABLISH a one-world order under totally & fully unquestioned tutelage of deep state and there’re other people who dare prefer to say no.

    His arms (or biden’s arms) are stained with the blood of other nations.

    Thus russia and north korea simply want to clean uncle sam’s hands, failing which they would then be prepared to send him straight to the hellishly hell-bloody netherworld.

    US is the great breat bloodthirsty entity on this planet and it now has an army of like-minded followers who are as eager as it to enter the eternally bloody realm of bloody hell.

  3. Commentar

    September 6, 2023 at 9:55 am

    The real criminal is america, no one else, fullstop.

    Recall Daniel ellsberg who passed away not too long ago.

    Ellsberg was a true blue military man and a former USMC veteran who went to nam in the mid-sixties.

    He went along on ‘pacification patrols’ or sanitization operations, participated in a one or some few firefights and it was during one patrol when he realized the bloody nam war was a hopeless war. A surely unwinnable war. A totally dirty war. A stupid war.

    One day as his patrol neared a Hamlet, he saw the isolated villagers shaking with fear at the approach of American GIs.

    The GIs with their big guns were responsible for many innocent killings, their dicks responsible for numerous assaults on their womenfolk.

    To the villagers, America was no friend, only a terribly lawless bloodthirsty criminal.

    The notorious military sweep of the Mekong delta in 1968 that went into the following year, especially by the equally notorious US Army 9th div, resulted in over 9,000 civilians, possibly as many as 14,000.

    One soldier, bumgarner, reportedly singlehandedly killed (executed) 1,500 over a forty-two week stretch.

    American is the real criminal of the world today. Tomorrow ?

  4. Sofronie the Monk

    September 6, 2023 at 4:37 pm

    @George Gordon Byron: While “madarasia” was such a benefactor in Eastern Europe and in Central Asia…

    @404: “Moscow and pyongyang are like 2 big boulders”. Well, at least you got this part right.

    @Commentar: And for all the atrocities they committed in the past, at least you don’t see the Americans celebrating them as Russia does. Is there any kind of outrage in Russia over what Vasili Blokhin did, for example? Or Lavrenti Beria?

    I won’t even bother mentioning Stalin, since the majority of Russians seem to consider him a great leader. So “the people have spoken” on that one.

  5. John

    September 7, 2023 at 2:47 am

    Why are we allowing our own nuclear deterrence to deteriorate while China, Russia, NK, soon Iran are achieving nuclear superiority?
    No response to Polands plea for nuclear weapons sharing. Shameful.
    Sk, Poland, Japan should work together to create their own nuclear deterrence. Nuclear landbased cruise missiles would be a first step. They should ask France for help. US is overstretched

  6. mihai

    September 7, 2023 at 5:26 am

    MAGA is missing…

  7. George Gordon Byron

    September 8, 2023 at 8:32 am

    For St. Sophronius:
    1) While the USA, V. Britain, other imperialist countries, NATO, the EU, have been, are and will be such benefactors in Europe, Asia, Africa. Yu. and S. America … having captured, destroyed, enslaved and robbed hundreds of countries, hundreds of millions of people.
    2) And despite all the atrocities they (see paragraph 1) committed in the past, at least you don’t see Russians celebrating
    the seizures, destruction, enslavement and robbery of hundreds of countries, hundreds of millions of people.
    Do you know about the atrocities of Germans, Japanese, Italians, Romanians, Hungarians, Balts, Bandera, etc. during World War 2? Have you also not heard of the atrocities of the angelic West?
    4) Is there any indignation in the West about what, for example, Elizabeth I did (executed 89 thousand more of her subjects.), the fires of the Inquisition, the genocide of Indians, concentration camps for Boers, slave trade, zoos with natives, reservations, colonies, the extermination of hundreds of millions of people, etc. See item 1.
    3) I won’t even bother mentioning the bloody Roman, Greek, Arab, Ottoman, German, Austro-Hungarian, British, emperors and kings, presidents and prime ministers, Alexander the Great, Nero, Genghis Khan, Emir Timur, Pope Alexander VI, Caligula, King John, Elizabeth 1, Robespierre, Cromwell, Tsepesh, Attila, Leopold II, Napoleon, Emperor Hirohito, Ceausescu, since most seem to consider them great leaders. So, “the people have spoken out” about this.
    PS The number of Ceausescu’s supporters is growing in Romania.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *