Reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un plans to visit Russia this month to discuss arms supply with President Vladimir Putin are causing concern among Western allies.
But according to Mark Gitenstein, the United States ambassador to the European Union, the prospective meeting in the Russian city of Vladivostok, which neither side has yet confirmed, only confirms Western sanctions are successfully exhausting the Kremlin’s military capacities.
Since launching the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Putin has become increasingly isolated on the world stage, with a handful of countries such as North Korea, Belarus, Syria and Nicaragua left on his side.
Putin intends to ask Kim for more artillery shells and missiles in order to support the war against Ukraine, while Kim is interested in securing advanced technology and food provisions, the New York Times has reported.
“For Putin to go to North Korea for arms is an indication that our strategy is working,” Gitenstein told Euronews in an interview on Tuesday.
“Our export controls and sanctions have just knocked his military back to the 19th century, so he’s going to another country he would never go to otherwise to get military equipment,” he added. “To me, it’s an indication of Putin’s failure and our success.”
The ambassador also addressed recent media reports that suggest American officials are frustrated by tactical mistakes made by Kyiv in its counter-offensive against Russian forces. Gitenstein played down the speculation and said victory was within reach, as long as the West’s multi-billion financial and military support continued.
“There are a lot of people who are very happy with the way it’s going and understand how difficult breaking a defensive regime like this is when you have a fascist government run by a military that will do anything. It’s hard to break that hold,” Gitenstein said.
“I’m very confident the Ukrainians will win. I already know that Putin has lost,” he added.
“It may take longer than we thought, but it’s going to take as long as it takes.”
US support unwavering
The ambassador also assured that public approval for support to Ukraine is still high in the United States, regardless of political affinities.
“When you see Russians bombing maternity wards or blowing up apartment buildings, your natural moral instinct is to say we’ve got to do something about it,” he said.
“Even Republican senators who I talk to say the same thing: we’ll be with you as long as you need us.”
Gitenstein praised the EU’s initiative to open so-called “solidarity lanes,” which allow Ukrainian farmers to trade their cereals with other countries while the war rages on. The “solidarity lanes” have become even more important for Kyiv’s economy after Vladimir Putin’s unilateral decision to exit the Black Sea corridor, prompting the collapse of the UN-backed initiative and upending global supply chains.
“The most important thing is not to believe Putin’s lies. He’s bombing the (grain) silos,” the ambassador said. “He started this war. He’s the one thing that’s causing the food crisis around the world. People are starving because of his decisions.”
EU and US aligned on industrial strategy
In his interview with Euronews, Gitenstein discussed one of the sorest points in EU-US relations: the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
Spearheaded by American President Joe Biden, the act earmarks $369 billion (€344.5 billion) in tax credits, rebates and subsidies to support the production of green technology, such as solar panels, wind turbines and heat pumps, but only if these products are manufactured on North American soil.
The American-made provision was met with fury in Brussels, where policymakers argue it could trigger an industrial exodus across the Atlantic Ocean and undermine the competitiveness of European companies.
Gitenstein, however, believes ongoing talks between Brussels and Washington have managed to resolve issues and establish a new realisation that subsidies are needed to make the green transition possible.
“What’s fascinating about the dialogue I’ve been involved in over the last six months is how much the EU and the US both agree that the goal of dealing with climate change requires a tremendous change in our industrial strategy,” he said.
Another delicate issue that Brussels and Washington are currently working on is the years-long trade dispute over aluminium and steel tariffs, initiated by former president Donald Trump. The two sides have set 31 October as the deadline to achieve a durable and definite solution to the controversy.
The ambassador believes an agreement will be reached.
“I am confident that within the next few months, we will have a summit and that President Biden and Presidents (Charles) Michel and (Ursula) von der Leyen will be there,” he said. “We will by then have reached an agreement in substance, at least on both aluminium and steel.”