NK nuke issue helps expand Russian influence



North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho visited Russia April 9-11 and met his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, as part of efforts to ease tensions on the peninsula. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un paid an unofficial visit to China and met Chinese President Xi Jinping March 25-28. The two Koreas will hold the third inter-Korean summit on April 27 in the truce village of Panmunjom. US President Donald Trump planned to have a dialogue with Kim before the end of May.

Lavrov accepted an invitation to visit Pyongyang. Although whether Kim will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin remains uncertain, it is believed that Lavrov in his planned visit to Pyongyang will likely discuss a Putin-Kim summit. North Korea has been actively engaged in diplomatic activities with other countries as a way to balance interests among major powers on the North Korean nuclear issue. By so doing, Pyongyang strives to improve its isolated diplomatic situation and heavily hit economy caused by UN Security Council sanctions. Pyongyang also seeks to secure more leverage with relevant parties before the possible Kim-Trump meeting.

Because of its historical connection with North Korea after World War II and its clout in Northeast Asia, Russia was an important participant in the Six-Party Talks. Russia needs to ensure its involvement in the North Korea issue and maintain its influence in Northeast Asia. Due to its reduced national strength after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia cannot direct a solution to the North Korean nuclear issue. But it is reluctant to be excluded from the denuclearization of the peninsula, which may be seen as jeopardizing the status of Russia as a regional power.

Moscow therefore supports Beijing's proposal of a "dual suspension" and "dual track" approach but hasn't proposed its own method for addressing the North Korean nuclear issue. Kim's visit to China and the upcoming inter-Korean summit and Kim-Trump meeting are stirring concern in Russia about being excluded in the progress. The exchange between foreign ministers of Russia and North Korea is partly attributed to Moscow's positive role in the issue.

Lavrov told reporters after meeting Ri Yong-ho that to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, a serious agreement is needed to protect North Korea's security interests. He said this security guarantee must be unshakable. This was welcomed by North Korea. If a military clash hits the Korean Peninsula, security and stability in Russia's Far East and Siberia will be affected and a refugee crisis and ecological catastrophe will ensue. For Russia, stability on the peninsula weighs a lot. Russia's stance on North Korea falls in line with North Korea's interests.

Russia sees getting involved in the North Korean nuclear issue as a chance to expand its influence. Russia tries to boost national development by creating geopolitical vitality and building itself as a strategically important participant.

In a seminar held by the Valdai Discussion Club in Seoul in November, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov said Russia was committed to deepening economic cooperation in Eurasia and promoting the integration of the Eurasian economy. He stressed many projects can coordinate with the China-proposed Belt and Road initiative and the two Koreas can join some China-Russia strategic projects as a way to leave leeway for peace and stability on the peninsula.

Russia's stance on the North Korean nuclear issue indicates the country is no longer a globally influential power but is capable of maintaining its influence on core Eurasian issues. China and Russia basically share the same stance on the North Korean nuclear issue and so they could coordinate with each other to achieve common interests.