North Korea, Relations with
- Korean-Russian relations have been largely determined by Moscow’s geopolitical interests in northeastern Asia. During and after World War II, Joseph Stalin supported the first leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Kim Il-sung, against both Japanese imperialists and the United States–backed regime in the south, the Republic of Korea. Relations cooled after Stalin’s death but grew closer in the wake of the Sino-Soviet split.As part of perestroika, Mikhail Gorbachev dramatically reduced the Soviet subsidization of the Kim Jong-il regime, and, in 1990, recognized the Republic of Korea (South Korea). A policy of divestment from the PDRK was also pursued by Boris Yeltsin after Russia’s independence; lack of support from Russia and Pyongyang’s mismanagement of its centralized economy sparked an economic crisis in the country, resulting in a famine in the mid-1990s that claimed upward of 3 million lives. Yeltsin sought to distance the Russian Federation from North Korea in an effort to gain admittance to a number of international organizations that considered the DPRK a rogue state; he terminated a bilateral defense treaty and suspended all non–hard currency foreign trade with the republic. Much to the chagrin of Pyongyang, Yeltsin also rapidly expanded economic, political, and cultural links with Seoul.With the ascension of Yevgeny Primakov in the second Yeltsin administration, Pyongyang reentered Russia’s geopolitical strategy in the region. Upon his election to the presidency, Vladimir Putin moved quickly to rehabilitate North Korea and pushed through a Treaty on Friendship and Good-Neighborly Relations in 2000. Trade expanded rapidly, though still below late Soviet norms. In 2001, Kim made the 9,330-kilometer journey across Russia in a specially armored train to meet with Putin in Moscow, marking a significant departure from his isolationist stance. Through quiet and pragmatic diplomacy, Moscow used its reinvigorated influence to urge reconciliation between the two Koreas, with the ultimate aim of developing transportation and energy links to Seoul via the Trans-Siberian Railway–Trans-Korean Railroad (TSR-TKR) project. Following North Korea’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty on 10 January 2003, Russia became a key player in the Six-Party Talks meant to keep the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons. Russia became a strong advocate for North Korea and critic of any possible military action to remove Kim, particularly after George W. Bush’s inclusion of the pariah state in his “axis of evil” in 2001. However, in 2007, Putin prohibited Russian companies from supplying the DPRK with materials for its weapons program; the decision was made in response to Pyongyang’s 2006 nuclear test. In 2008, Moscow and Pyongyang completed a border demarcation project begun in 2000, finally settling the 17.5-kilometer frontier between the two countries. In early 2009, Moscow condemned Pyongyang’s increasingly threatening military posture vis-à-vis its southern neighbor as “intolerable.”See also China; Foreign relations; Japan.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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