BY: TIAGO P. CHAVES
Historically, the Soviet “red wave” was felt throughout the world for almost the entire 20th century, and the Korean Peninsula has been no exception. Since the Korean War (1950-1953), Moscow proved to be the greatest political, economic, military and administrative supporter of Pyongyang. The disintegration of the USSR (1991), however, deteriorated these bilateral relations. The Russian reforms under Boris Yeltsin’s presidency led Kremlin policy to the West. As a result, relations between the DPRK and the Russian Federation entered a period of mutual distrust. Russians began demanding repayments of the North Korean debt, aid programs were shut down, human rights violations increased, and trade declined. But with the turn of the century bilateral relations have resurfaced. Vladimir Putin realized the geostrategic potential of the Korean Peninsula and reengaged with the Asia-Pacific; leaving no remaining friendships, but rather political-administrative cooperation.
Currently, Russia ́s foreign policy is summarized in the 2016 Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation. It puts forward the creation of “a system of stable and sustainable international relations, based on the accepted norms of international law and the principles of equal rights, mutual respect and non-interference in the internal affairs of States”.
Globalization has produced new actors, changed the gravity of the Pacific, creating a new reality and calling into question the status quo of world order and security. Above all, it is Kenneth ́s Waltz realist theory we are talking about: a return to the multipolar order to ensure a balance of powers and relations.
On the other hand, this document also defends the general strategy in the different areas of the world, which includes the Korean Peninsula. The national interest must encompass a large space of national territory with geostrategic implications. The implementation of socio-economic development programs in the Siberian region and the Russian Far East aims to establish a security architecture of collective cooperation, creating inter-Korean economic cooperation and a peaceful nuclear non-proliferation.
For the DPRK, the current geostrategic position consists of duality. Russia has on one side, the notion that it borders an unstable, nuclear country. On the other hand, it also acknowledges the need for modernization of infrastructure in the region, which is an investment opportunity. The final goal is to reach Seoul and the primary interest- to cooperate with Pyongyang . The Kremlin wants to build a road from South Korea to Europe, through Russia’s land.
We are not talking about significant interests on trade with the Kim Jong Un regime. North Korea has weak competitiveness, huge risks of default and repeated international sanctions on her hands. The energy issue is the key. Russia is currently the DPRK ́s largest energy supplier, mainly gasoline and diesel. But regarding the field of communicational cooperation, there is land, air and sea links for a reason. In the air, there are connections between Pyongyang and Vladivostok. In the sea, there is trade between the ports of Khasan and Najin. On land, there is a railway connection. More importantly, there are ongoing investments with the Kremlin aiming to increase its influence in the region.
What we can see is that the connections between Moscow and Pyongyang from the end of the Cold War to the present formed under pragmatic standards. The political field continues to be a divisive factor, but the economic field does not. The DPRK needs some of Russia’s trade and its lines of communication. Russia sees the lack of modernization in North Korea as an opportunity for geostrategic applicability.
Therefore, the Russian Federation Foreign Policy to the Korean Peninsula has two aspects- realism and utopianism. Realism because, as Kenneth Waltz argues, his state must be the security and survival of the national territory. Utopianism insofar as, even facing economic losses with DPRK, the state realizes that trade and the various cooperation with the North Korean entities may be the key influence in the region, despite the enormous predominance of China and United States.
Tiago P. Chaves is a Portuguese Historian and a post-graduate student in Globalization, Diplomacy and Security at NOVA University of Lisbon. His scientific research focuses on contemporary history, international affairs, regional dynamics and geopolitics.
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