Putin-Kim Summit: Easing Tensions

One should not expect any sensational results from this summit. There could be verbal statements of adherence to a peaceful settlement of the Korean Peninsula’s nuclear problem, the need to ease sanctions in response to DPRK’s steps toward denuclearisation, etc. Judging by the time taken in planning this summit, real difficulties may be encountered in fulfilling its agenda.

The unsuccessful Kim-Trump summit in Hanoi contributed to the intensification of Pyongyang’s efforts to organise the meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin. In Hanoi, Kim did not succeed in easing economic sanctions. Now, North Korea will probably try to get the support of other parties in promoting its approach to the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula (phasing it out, with consideration given to Pyongyang’s concerns about its security amid an easing of international sanctions and the provision of economic assistance, simultaneously with the denuclearisation process). In principle, Russia understands this approach and finds it acceptable in the context of ensuring its own national interests in Northeast Asia. Therefore, after the Hanoi Summit, which ended without any positive results for the DPRK, the meeting in Vladivostok could become the first positive step towards reviving diplomatic efforts to resolve the Korean Peninsula’s nuclear issue. Regardless of this, the leaders of Russia and North Korea are unlikely to sign any documents.

Last year, when the DPRK held summits with China, Kazakhstan and the United States, many experts said that Russia had remained on the sideline during Pyongyang’s “peaceful offensive”. At the same time, some Russian experts (for example, members of the Centre for Korean Studies at the RAS Institute of Far Eastern Studies) predicted a speedy deadlock in negotiations between the DPRK and the United States, due to the very different approaches to the Korean Peninsula's denuclearisation (Kim’s phasing out vs. Trump’s big deal). In this regard, there was no sense for Russia to hurry and stand in a queue for the “summit”. It made sense to wait until the Northerners bumped up against the Americans and rushed toward Russia in search of alternative means to achieve their foreign policy goals, principally, the easing of sanctions that impede the economic development of the DPRK.

Putin-Kim Summit: A Long Overdue Event
Gleb Ivashentsov
On April 24-25, a Russian-North Korean summit will be held in Vladivostok. This meeting is long overdue, especially given the fact that Kim Jong-un has had four meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, three with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and two with Donald Trump.
Expert Opinions

I would not expect any sensational results from this summit. There could be verbal statements of adherence to a peaceful settlement of the Korean Peninsula’s nuclear problem, the need to ease sanctions in response to DPRK’s steps toward denuclearisation, etc. Judging by the time taken in planning this summit, real difficulties may be encountered in fulfilling its agenda. Pyongyang, of course, is interested in expanding economic cooperation and receiving economic assistance from Russia. However, possibilities for the development of relations are significantly limited by the UN Security Council sanctions, so there is not much to expect in this area. However, in the event that sanctions are loosened, there is an existing joint Rajin-Khasan logistics project, which needs to be developed. There are Russia’s needs for North Korean labour, there is a request from the Northerners for the construction of an automobile bridge between the two countries to expand trade and tourism ties, as well as electric power development projects.

Moscow has consistently advocated the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula via political and diplomatic methods and the creation of a multilateral security structure in the Northeast Asia region. Russia’s efforts in the framework of the six-party talks confirm this. Then the negotiations were interrupted for many years and Pyongyang conducted nuclear tests, causing a response from the world community in the form of UN Security Council sanctions. Recently, the DPRK probably thought that it would be able to resolve all of its issues directly with the United States without the participation of other parties. However, the Hanoi Summit showed that this is not the case. Kim Jong-un failed to exchange part of his nuclear facilities for substantial relief from the sanctions regime. The prospects for American-North Korean dialogue are vague. Such a development requires the involvement of other significant regional players to resolve the nuclear crisis. One of them, of course, is Russia. In 2017, Moscow proposed a “road map” to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula, which was supported by China. The “double freeze” initiative suggested that North Korea must not test nuclear warheads and must not launch rockets, and the United States and South Korea must not conduct or, at least, should drastically reduce the scale of military exercises. As we can see, at the moment, this path is being implemented in practice, which indicates an adequate assessment of the situation by Russia and its ability to make constructive proposals. Last autumn, Moscow raised in the UN Security Council the question of the possibility of easing sanctions in response to the steps taken by the DPRK to denuclearise the peninsula. It appears that this position is still maintained. The implementation of Russia’s proposals will contribute to the further easing of tensions, allowing Moscow to develop a realistic action plan for ensuring the non-proliferation regime on the Korean Peninsula.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.