Yongusil 99: The DPRK Nuclear Crisis and Moscow’s Pivot Toward Beijing

By | April 06, 2020 | No Comments

Commemorative stamp memorializing the late Andrei Karlov, who served as Russia’s ambassador to North Korea during the DPRK’s abandonment of the Agreed Framework and its first nuclear test. | Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Struggling to stay relevant at the Korean security crisis’s crowded negotiation table, the Russian Federation is undoubtedly among the least influential players in efforts to get the DPRK to disarm. Even within Russian foreign policy itself, the Korean Peninsula is not as important for Moscow as other sub-regions along the Russian periphery. This may seem counterintuitive given the Kremlin’s “turn to the East” over the past 10 years or so, although Moscow’s emphasis on the Asia-Pacific aspect of its foreign policy has not necessarily translated into independent influence in Korean security.

Though Russia’s pivot to Asia is often reduced to a mere turning to China in response to developments in Eastern Europe, this is by and large an oversimplification. Yet in the Korean context, it is precisely the growth of the Sino-Russian strategic partnership, in which Moscow undoubtedly constitutes the junior partner, that has enabled Moscow to continue to stay relevant in Korean security affairs. 

As Sino-NK’s Anthony Rinna argues in his latest research paper, the Russian Federation’s policies toward the Korean security crisis have increasingly developed in tandem with those of the substantially more influential People’s Republic of China. Particularly since 2017, when Beijing and Moscow unveiled their “roadmap” for the Korean Peninsula, it has become appropriate to speak of a veritable Sino-Russian bloc, as opposed to China and Russia operating as two separate actors in Korean security affairs. This point only became more evident as prospects for continued direct DPRK-US diplomacy broke down at the end of 2019, when the Chinese and Russian governments jointly resolved to continue pushing for multilateral diplomacy.

The standoff over Korean security, while not exactly on hold, is hardly at the forefront of public discourse at the moment. Nevertheless, once the current public health crisis subsides, discussions over Korean security will likely see a continual alignment of Chinese and Russian policy positions, a fact that other interested stakeholders would do well to note in their dealings with Beijing and Moscow, respectively.  

Anthony Rinna’s “The Russian Federation’s Policies Toward the Korean Security Crisis: Moscow’s Pivot Toward China” was published in Global Politics Review vol. 6, no. 1-2 (March 2020).

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