OPINION - Vladimir Putin looks to be seeking manpower from North Korea — he's desperate

 (KCNA VIA KNS/AFP via Getty Image)
(KCNA VIA KNS/AFP via Getty Image)

For all the fanfare of Vladimir Putin’s visit to Kim Jong-un last week, there was something of a dance of the desperate. Both men needed each other, in their military adventures and posturings. Already millions of shells and rockets have been shipped from North Korea for the Ukraine war, according to US and South Korean intelligence.

They agreed for more military hardware and know-how to be exchanged, but that was on the cards anyway. Less obvious was the bargaining over employing North Korean manpower as Russia’s security problems become more urgent.

The news this weekend from Dagestan, the southern-most republic of the Russian Federation in the Caucasus, highlights the issue. Attacks by gunmen, well-trained and equipped (to judge by the first video images and eyewitness accounts), on a synagogue and churches have killed 16 policemen and an Orthodox priest, according to initial reports. Six gunmen were killed, officials say.

The signs are growing that Putin has a major manpower problem for the Ukraine “special operation”

Dagestan, with a population of around three million, is largely Muslim with a range of minorities and ethnic groups, the largest being Avars, roughly a third of the total — while the Russians are only three per cent. Derbent, where the synagogue was attacked, has a significant Jewish minority.

Russia is facing a spate of terrorist attacks. On March 22, some 145 were killed and 521 injured in a carefully choreographed attack at the Crocus City Concert Hall just outside Moscow. The attack by the four hitmen was admitted by the Islamic militants of the increasingly active Isis-Khorasan group, recently expelled by the Taliban from Afghanistan and now largely based in and around Tajikistan.

Initially, Kremlin media tried to blame Ukraine for the Crocus City attack, but that soon stalled. There has been a feeble attempt to link the Dagestan attacks to Ukraine this morning, but this has had no support from Moscow officialdom.

The signs are growing that Putin has a major manpower problem for the Ukraine “special operation” and an increasingly difficult and complex domestic security picture. There is the threat from Islamists, especially in the Caucasus. There are continuing reports of civil unrest in the remote border regions with China.

In Ukraine itself, Russia’s summer offensive is struggling — with the major assault on Kharkiv stalling.

Hence the need for extra manpower — to backfill all the low-level support roles. It might bring relief to the starving families of North Korean workers. Putin now has more than four million engaged in the Ukraine fight. In defence industry, support and combat, Putin now has more than four million engaged in the Ukraine fight. — and he is not winning.

Despite the rictus grin on the podiums in North Korea and Vietnam last week, beneath the mask Putin must be getting desperate. And when he gets desperate, he gets really dangerous.

Robert Fox is the Evening Standard’s defence editor