Looking into Russian View toward the North Korean Nuclear Problem

[imText1]It is a well known fact that Russia is the most inactive palyer among the members of the six-party talks. That does not mean that Russia does not oppose to the nuclear armament of North Korea. However, it is possible to assume that Russia feels less threatened by the North Korea’s nuclear armament than other countries attending the six-party talks.

South Korea, US and Japan are the possible targets of North Korean missiles so they feel the North Korean nuclear armament as a big threat. China will not allow another nuclear state in the Northeast Asian region and will treat it as a challenge to its own national interests. However, this is not the case for Russia.

There is little possibility of Russian territory targeted by North Korean missiles and Northeast Asia is a side-issue in Russia’s overseas strategy. The current foreign policy of Moscow is focused on Europe, US and the former Soviet Union countires, and it’s foreign policy toward Northeast Asia has been passive and defensive. For this reason, it is natural that North Korean issue is not a top priority for foreign policy agenda of Russia.

Russian Policy toward the Korean Peninsula is ‘Maintaining the Status Quo’

In such a case, why did Russia decide to attend six-party talks, and what is the behind story for its decision?

In the early 1990s, right after the split of former Soviet block, Russia carried out the active west-friendly foreign policy, but its policy dramatically changed the late 1990s. The present foreign policy of Russia is based on the practicalism, setting national interest as the nation’s priority other than any idealistic values or large-scale plans.

What is Russia’s national interest in the Korean Peninsula? In simple terms, it is maintaing the ‘status-quo’. The political chaos in the Korean peninsula will lead to difficulties in its trade and investment and will bring the strategic, social problems in the Far East region where Russia will not be able to exercise enough of influence.

Collpse of the Kim Jong Il regime or a war with North Korea is undesirable for Russia for it could create mass exodus of refugees, economic difficulties, and break up of the trade system. Therefore Russia prefers to support the North Korea regime. Moscow do not regard the North Korean human rights issue as important. Generally in Russia where they follow the practicalism not only the political leaders but also the common people as well, they are inclined to think the term such as ‘human rights’ as an American propaganda.

North Korea-Russia Relations is a ‘symbolic action’

Even if Russia supported North Korea, it has no will to contribute financially, not even a penny to achieve that purpose. We here that the relationship between North Korea and Russia is getting better recently, but if you look at the details of the North Korea and Russia relation, we soon find out they merely do some ‘symbolic actions’ rather than doing any material exchange. China, Japan, US, South Korea are the countries providing mass relief to North Korea, there is nothing significant about the North Korea- Russia relations except that Kim Jong Il go in and out of Moscow by train.

There are two main reasons for Russia to hold such passive position. First, Moscow does not attach importance to the Korean peninsula as mentioned above. Second, Moscow has already learned its lesson from its experiences of the past decades, that Moscow will not be able to receive anything in return of the assistance it gives to North Korea. In this circumstance, wasting money will be an unpleasant choice.

North Korea will make no effort Six-party talks

After all, Russia plans to use the present relationship between North Korea as an instrument to build relations between China and US. From the late 1990s, Russia claims that it had special relationship with North Korea and that it still has influence on North Korea. However, it is difficult to believe that there is a special relationship between North Korea and Russia. Even the former Soviet Union as one of the superpowers did not enjoy the full power over North Korea, but now as a second-rate power country that offers no money at all to Pyongyang will hardly have any significant influence over it.

Russia’s stance on the North Korea problem a part of its foreign policy. It seems like Moscow thinks of the relationship between North Korea as ‘diplomatic goods’. Moscow wants to win their needing concession from the US by asserting that they can guide Pyongyang to the ‘right’ way. In other words, there is a possibility that Russia will use ‘the special relationship’ with North Korea, which it insist it has, as a diplomatic means.

Yet Russia is facing an inevitable dilemma in its policy toward North Korea. Russia does not have much money, especially no money for foreign policy. In this situation even though Russia wants North Korea to live for long without nuclear weapons, Russia is unable to put money or resources in helping North Korea to drop its nuclear program. That is why Russia is the most inactive county in the six-party talks. Although the final goal is to‘denuclearize North Korea,’ Moscow will not exert all its efforts to pursue this goal. The position of Russia is that it is good if the plan works as desires but even if it does not, it will not be troubled by it.

– Andrei N. Lankov is a visiting professor of history at Kukmin University in Korea, who was born and raised in Leningrad, Russia. He has an expertise in North Korea, and authored many books on North Korea including “From Stalin to Kim Il Sung,” “Crisis in North Korea,” and many others.

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