Yongusil 98: Moscow and the Dilemma of Regional Development versus North Korea Sanctions

By | September 30, 2019 | No Comments

Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin meeting in Vladivostok, April 2019. The Kim-Putin summit occurred at a time when DPRK-Russia trade relations declined precipitously, according to official Russian government statistics. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Russian Federation has for several decades been the least influential of the Great Power parties to the Korean security crisis. The lackluster aftermath of the April 2019 summit between Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok underscored the point: Moscow-Pyongyang bilateral ties, long-standing though they are, are not particularly substantive.

In the United States, the current view of Russia’s role on the Korean Peninsula is that of idle spoiler. It is misguided. There is little doubt that Moscow and Washington share few common goals, besides the general notion that North Korea should at some point bid farewell to its nuclear weapons, but bluntly accusing Moscow of deliberately attempting to undermine US policy goals isn’t the most nuanced approach to the Kremlin’s position.

For one thing, though it is no fan of sanctions, the Russian Federation has consistently voted in favor of imposing them on Pyongyang in the UN Security Council (UNSC). In doing so, the Russian government has possibly salvaged a degree of respectability among its peers in the P5. But at the same time, it has negatively impacted its own domestic goal of economically developing the Russian Far East. Ramping up sanctions against the DPRK has in particular caused Russia to lose economic opportunities on and around the Korean Peninsula (although Moscow has at least managed to retain the right to utilize the port of Rason-Khasan through a UN sanctions carve-out).

As this paper argues, in the end the Russian Federation faces a very clear trade-off: refusal to support sanctions risks Moscow being seen as a rogue actor unwilling to collaborate in international efforts to induce Pyongyang to disarm. Yet to support UNSC sanctions means undermining Russian domestic economic goals that have been in the works for at least a decade.

Exploring this dilemma of the domestic versus the international in more depth, Anthony Rinna’s latest publication “Sanctions, Security and Regional Development in Russia’s Policies Toward North Korea” was published in Asian International Studies Review, vol. 20, no. 1 (June 2019). 

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