Mansudae Korea

Vladivostok Summit | Why the shift towards Russia?

At the time of writing, Marshall Kim Jong Un has arrived in Vladivostok for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The meeting comes only a few months after the February summit with President Trump fell apart in Hanoi leaving the US stuck in a deadlock with a nuclear-armed Pyongyang and simultaneously refusing to remove economic sanctions on the country. Only a few days ago the DPRK demanded that Pompeo, US secretary of state, be removed from he negotiating team citing his two-faced attitude towards nuclear talks and claiming they would only move forward if Pompeo were no longer leading the US team. Raising the stakes even more, Pyongyang announced recently it had successfully tested a new tactical weapon. Whilst the test wasn’t of a missile or nuclear device it still signals a shift away from the weapons-testing moratorium which the Marshall pledged to the US in 2018 and perhaps a sign that officials in Pyongyang are becoming impatient with the US and its refusal to make concessions.

Marshall Kim Jong Un departed by train from Pyongyang

With all this context, why Russia? The government of the DPRK has strengthened ties with its major economic ally, China, in recent months with Marshall Kim Jong Un visiting President Xi Jingping in Beijing three times over a year period. This was a smart move since building that relationship means Pyongyang may be able to encourage Beijing to adopt a more lenient attitude towards sanctions since most foreign trade is conducted with or through China. As both the US and DPRK begin to lose interest or become less enthused by the prospect of denuclearisation it is vital that officials in Pyongyang are able to demonstrate to officials in Washington that they have other economic options with countries who may not even demand denuclearisation in exchange for support. Russia and China are both members of the P5 on the security council giving them the power to block future UNSC sanctions against North Korea and government individuals. Also, building a friendly relationship with Russia and China means that Pyongyang will have 2 friendly borders on its northern side which would be ideal should international sanctions be relaxed.

The Marshal is joined by various members of the WPK and government

Putin is an enigma in modern politics and little is known about what will be discussed between the two leaders. The talks will almost certainly focus on economics and sanctions relief but whether Russia will make any demands in return is unknown. Perhaps Moscow will lower the bar and only request that Pyongyang maintains the current moratorium on nuclear and missile tests whilst ensuring the DPRK remains under its nuclear umbrella. Putin has seeminly always had a soft spot for its socialist neighbour; he visited the country in 2000, only a few months into his first presidency, during General Kim Jong Il’s tenure and has permitted foreign workers from the DPRK to work at logging stations in Siberia allowing the country to earn foreign currency and support its economy. The result of these talks in Vladivostok may signal a huge turning point in the ‘nuclear issue’ and could potentially take full denuclearisation off the table. Unlike the US-DPRK summit a timeline has yet to be produced for this summit and so we may never get a clear-cut run-down of what the talks entailed by hopefully, some way or another, this summit with push the US and DPRK out of the current deadlock.

Benjamin Weston

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