Multipolarity and Connectivity
Russia – North Korea: A Positive Agenda

North Korea, for the first time since the existence of the Russian Federation, has become a more important partner for Moscow on the Korean Peninsula than South Korea, which, albeit without enthusiasm, was forced to implement Western economic sanctions against Russia, Alexander Vorontsov writes.

During the summit at the Vostochny cosmodrome on September 13, 2023, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un invited Vladimir Putin to visit Pyongyang, and Russia’s president accepted. The plan for such a visit this year was confirmed by Moscow in late January.

However, rumours and speculation about the Russian president visiting Pyongyang appeared earlier and began to gain significant traction in connection with DPRK Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui’s trip to Moscow on January 15-17, 2024. She was received in the Kremlin by Russian President Vladimir Putin on January 16. Both the West and South Korea immediately announced that a Russian state visit could take place in the near future, that is, before Russia’s March presidential elections. Such hasty, inadequate forecasts were justified, first of all, by allegations about Moscow’s alleged desire to speed up military cooperation with North Korea, and an increase in unfounded assumptions circulated in the West about the alleged supply of North Korean weapons and ammunition to Russia. The situation was clarified by Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov, who stated on January 23 that before the presidential elections in March this year such a visit will definitely not take place. But the visit is on the list of foreign tours of the head of the Russian Federation in 2024.

Therefore, it is realistic to expect a visit to the DPRK not only after the elections themselves, but also after the subsequent transition period, that is, most likely towards the end of spring.

Of course, the summit meeting in Pyongyang will be a landmark event in bilateral relations, but not a unique one. This is a continuation of the bilateral practice of developing traditionally friendly, good-neighbourly relations, including the summit meetings throughout the history of the DPRK, which last year celebrated the 75th anniversary of its foundation. The only exception in this historical period was in the 1990s, when the Russian Federation, under the leadership of President Boris Yeltsin and then-foreign minister Kozyrev, pursued an openly unilateral pro-American and pro-South Korean course in foreign policy on the Korean Peninsula. However, as soon as Vladimir Putin was appointed Prime Minister of the Russian Federation in 1999, the then-leader of the DPRK Kim Jong Il immediately declared: “It seems that in Russia there is finally a person to deal with.” From that moment on, bilateral relations returned to the path of traditionally friendly interaction.

It is no coincidence that Vladimir Putin visited the DPRK during one of his first trips after being elected president in July 2000. That visit was truly significant. Until then, leaders of the USSR (General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee) or the Russian Federation had never visited the North of the Korean Peninsula. So, summit meetings became regular. But mostly, the leaders of North Korea came to Russia: Kim Jong Il in 2001, 2002 and 2011; Kim Jong-un — in 2019 and 2023.

It is noteworthy that Kim Jong-un made his first foreign visit after the end of the Covid pandemic to Russia, in September of last year, where he invited Vladimir Putin to visit North Korea. Thus, the upcoming visit of Russia’s head of state will be a reciprocal one.

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Of course, the expected meeting of the leaders of the Russian Federation and the DPRK, in addition to the bilateral dimension, will also have important international significance. As you know, the security situation on the Korean Peninsula has been consistently deteriorating over the past two years. According to Moscow and Beijing, the primary source of tension is the sharp escalation of the military-political activity of the US-South Korean military alliance, which is conducting non-stop bilateral, as well as trilateral large military manoeuvres together with Japan. In response, the DPRK is strengthening its defence potential, primarily through the vigorous development of its missile arsenal.

In recent weeks, the Russian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly made strong assessments of the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Here are some of them: “The reason for the sharp escalation of tension on the Korean Peninsula is the destructive, extremely provocative policy of the United States and its satellites. Against the DPRK, a country with a population of 26 million, the so-called ‘Pacific coalition’ consisting of the USA, Japan and South Korea has been built with a total population of over half a billion, with overwhelming industrial, technological and financial superiority, whose representatives shout at every corner that Pyongyang will attack, capture and destroy the poor, unfortunate, defenseless ones. At the same time, it is Washington, Seoul and Tokyo that constantly threaten North Korea, its political system, and its leadership. The republic is under continuous military, political, and economic pressure. ... Washington must see that the DPRK is not alone. Perhaps this will serve as a kind of sobering moment for the Americans and their satellites. This is the stabilising role of our foreign policy in the region.”

An important distinguishing feature of the current stage of development of Russian-North Korean cooperation has been Pyongyang’s strong vocal support for Russia’s Special Military Operation in Ukraine and, in general, Moscow’s confrontation against the collective West led by the United States. This factor deserves to be highlighted in some detail. Both on March 2, 2022 and on February 23, 2023, the DPRK was among the few countries that voted against the UN General Assembly resolutions condemning Russia for conducting its Special Military Operation in Ukraine. In July 2022, the DPRK established official diplomatic relations with the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. Thus, the DPRK became the fifth country to recognize the DPR and LPR after South Ossetia, the Russian Federation, Abkhazia and Syria. At the same time, Kiev, as expected, responded by breaking off diplomatic relations with the DPRK. After the DPR and LPR officially became part of Russia on September 30, 2022, Pyongyang on October 4, 2022, officially supported the results of referendums in the DPR, LPR, Zaporozhye and Kherson regions on joining Russia and recognised the legality of their entry into the Russian Federation, becoming the first state in the world to decide on such a bold step.

Numerous official actions of public support on the part of the DPRK culminated in the statement by Kim Yo Jong, sister of Kim Jong-un, head of the department of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, dated January 27, 2023. The statement emphasised, among other things: “I express serious concern and strongly condemn the actions of the United States, which is escalating the war situation step by step by pushing ground attack combat equipment into Ukraine.

I have no doubt that any armed equipment boasted by the United States and the West will be burned down and reduced to a heap of scrap metal before the indomitable fighting spirit and power of the heroic Russian army and people.

No matter how hard the imperialist allied forces try, they will never be able to break the heroic spirit of the Russian army and people with their high patriotism, resilience and strong spirit.

We will always stand in the same trench on the battlefield with the Russian army and people in the fight to protect the dignity and honour of the country, its sovereignty and security.”

As a result, North Korea, for the first time since the existence of the Russian Federation, has become a more important partner for Moscow on the Korean Peninsula than South Korea, which, albeit without enthusiasm, was forced to implement Western economic sanctions against Russia. In 2023 the Russian ministers of defence (in July), foreign affairs (in October), and many other ministers and high-ranking officials flew not to Seoul, but to Pyongyang. In November 2023, the 10th meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation was held in Pyongyang. A large and very representative Russian delegation took part, which included two ministers and several deputy ministers. They worked hard to find ways not only to restore bilateral economic cooperation in the post-Covid period, but also to seriously expand it, without violating the UN Security Council sanctions that Russia has signed and, as a responsible member of the UN, strives to comply with.

I am confident that these important issues will also be the focus of attention during the upcoming high-level negotiations in Pyongyang.

The main areas of cooperation will be varied, but the process of searching and developing them, as well as the results of the aforementioned meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission, are not advertised, taking into account the heightened and frankly unfriendly attention from opponents. Among the promising areas that were announced were the participation of Russian specialists in geological exploration in the DPRK, the development of tourism, as well as cooperation with respect to humanitarian efforts, sports, scientific exploration, education and other spheres.

In this regard, Russian Ambassador to Pyongyang Alexander Matsegora, in an interview with TASS, emphasised that preparations for the visit of the Russian president to the DPRK “are now limited only to work on joint documents that are planned to be signed during the visit. I think that this will be a very good package.” He added that 2024 will be a breakthrough year in Russian-Korean relations in many respects.

It should be noted that in connection with the important event under consideration, efforts were clearly outlined in the West aimed at complicating relations between three friendly countries: the Russian Federation, the DPRK and the PRC. For this purpose, various speculations are being spread: that the accelerated rapprochement between Moscow and Pyongyang causes feelings of jealousy and anxiety in Beijing, as well as the opposite direction — since China is looking for opportunities to restore cooperation with the United States, it is in no hurry to support the expansion of Russian-North Korean cooperation.

However, we have a clear understanding that information about the planned visit, as well as its results, will be brought to the attention of the PRC leadership in an appropriate form and in a timely manner; it will serve to strengthen the joint security of three friendly countries which border one another: Russia, China and North Korea. This visit of the Russian President to the DPRK and the agreements reached during it will be one of the important steps in the efforts of Moscow and Beijing to strengthen security on the Korean Peninsula, a continuation of their successful joint actions in this direction, which they are already effectively implementing in the UN Security Council and other international organisations. In another interview with RIA Novosti, Russian Ambassador to Pyongyang Alexander Matsegora, in connection with Washington’s establishment of the US-Japan-South Korea military-political triangle, emphasised that “the Americans are actually imposing a bloc confrontation on the region, resuscitating the practice of the Cold War. Moscow and Beijing, in turn, are promoting a positive international agenda.”

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