Courting RussiaAt the Korea-Russia summit meeting held yesterday in Moscow, President Lee Myung-bak and President Dmitri Medvedev agreed to elevate the Korea-Russia relationship from a comprehensive partnership to a strategic cooperative one.
The two countries’ cooperative relations have so far been focused on the economic sector, but now they will extend into sensitive areas such as politics, military, diplomacy and national security. This deepening of ties takes on an even greater meaning with the 20th anniversary of the normalization of relations coming in 2010.
With the move, the Lee administration has completed its preparations for a diplomatic structure between four strong countries, after building a strategic alliance with the United States, a mature partnership with Japan and establishing a strategic cooperative partnership with China.
Despite Russia’s strategic value for Korea in securing energy and resources and expanding its influence on the continent, the previous Korean administrations did not prioritize Russia among nations of diplomatic importance.
President Lee is also visiting Russia after a series of twists and turns. Based on surging oil dollars, Russia is rapidly restoring its influence in international society. Although belated, it was good that our administration decided to promote its ties with the country.
During the summit meeting, Seoul and Moscow signed 26 memorandums of understanding in a variety of sectors. Beginning in 2015, the Korea Gas Corporation will import 7.5 million tons of natural gas from Russia every year, 20 percent of our annual gas consumption, through the Russian energy giant Gazprom. They also agreed to conduct a joint study on the installation of a gas pipeline through North Korea. If the project is successfully carried out, South Korea and Russia will secure a stable energy supplier-client relationship and North Korea will earn fees for hosting the pipeline.
But it is pointless if agreements don’t lead to concrete achievements in the future. Past summit meetings also produced countless agreements, but didn’t lead to direct action. Examples are the projects to develop oil in the ocean of West Kamchatka and gas in Kovykta in Siberia. High oil prices were partially responsible for Russia changing its mind, but South Korea’s passive response was also a problem.
The government must follow up with measures to elevate Korea-Russia relations and benefit both with concrete results.