What might be dissuading Russia to sell advanced nuclear and military technologies to North Korea after the economic sanctions against Russia? Since Russia feared NATO sanctions from weapon sales and technology transfer to North Korea, and those fears no longer hold any sway since every possible sanctions were imposed against Russia, what might be holding Russia back from doing so?

I am thinking China might be the reason, but why China might not want North Korea to be more powerful since North Korea being stronger would benefit them and not the NATO alliance? Could you explain the complex geopolitics and political calculus being at play here?

  • 13
    I'd venture a guess that NK being pretty broke, so not being able to pay much. And probably the fear that whatever is given to NK they might resell elsewhere... from China to Pakistan. Jul 10, 2022 at 1:51
  • 2
    After 2014, there were Russian calls to increase trade with NK (by an order of magnitude), but they didn't quite pan out. Jul 10, 2022 at 2:05
  • related: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/66541/…
    – fraxinus
    Jul 10, 2022 at 17:06
  • 1
    Could you separate the two very different parts of that Question? Isn't "What might historically have been dissuading Russia from selling (anything) to North Korea" very different from "what effect might the economic sanctions imposed against Russia" have on trade with NK? Jul 10, 2022 at 21:36
  • Does North Korea have the monetary resources to make that worth the problems it would cause for a nation the size and scope of Russia? Jul 12, 2022 at 14:36

2 Answers 2


That might be done to spite the West, but with significant drawbacks for Russia itself.

  • Russia has a land border with the DPRK.
  • Russia would likely be unable to have full operational control about DPRK nukes.
  • Russia gets significant political status from being a nuclear power. This gets diluted if there are more nuclear powers. (The DPRK has tested nuclear devices, but questions linger about their operational capability).
  • The DPRK is unable to pay truly significant amounts of money.
  • Russia needs Chinese goodwill, and China is interested in a stable buffer state between them and the ROK. And also on a non-nuclear Japan. Arming the DPRK would help neither goal.
  • 10
    It's not so much that China wants a buffer between it & ROK, it wants a buffer between it & the US bases in ROK.
    – Fred
    Jul 10, 2022 at 10:54
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    I would add that Russia doesn't want nuclear war (except as a threat against NATO), so it's not in Russia's best interest to promote nuclear proliferation (unless they get something really significant in return).
    – Nobody
    Jul 10, 2022 at 16:40

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty provides legal requirements that Russia not share its technology with other states that are not recognized legal powers (US, Russia, France, China, and Britain--Israel, Pakistan, India, and NK are not signatories to the NPT). Violations could trigger further sanctions, though it's not clear at this point that this would change much. If North Korea gets a Russian weapon and detonates it, it can and will be traced back to Russia. It seems incredible, but post-detonation isotope ratios in the atmosphere can help trace a warhead back to its source country.

There are also further proliferation issues. If Russia ignores the treaty and shares its technology with North Korea, that could lead to other powers sharing their technology, too. The US could supply or help build a Saudi nuclear program, for example. This could lead to a breakdown of the existing proliferation regime and result in many more countries having overt or covert access to nuclear weapons. That could lead to more nuclear weapons on Russia's border and reduce its influence over those states as well as its general security, not to mention the risk for a nuclear conflagration elsewhere that could have global climatic impacts.

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