Russia ‘not an ally’ of Pyongyang

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Russia ‘not an ally’ of Pyongyang

Russia’s ambassador to South Korea denied that his country’s historic ties with North Korea will make it side with its former ally on the Cheonan issue now being debated by the UN Security Council. But he said it would take two or three more weeks for Russia to decide its position.

In a speech yesterday to members of the Korean Council on Foreign Relations, Konstantin V. Vnukov emphasized Russia is no longer North Korea’s ally.

“We can see ... journalists mention ‘even China and Russia, as closet allies of North Korea,’ but we are not an ally of North Korea,” Vnukov said.

During the Cold War, Russia and North Korea had a special treaty requiring either country to offer assistance if the other was faced with an “external invasion.” Russia officially ended the mutual assistance treaty in 1995 and replaced it with “friendship” treaty that excludes that guarantee.

“We don’t have such obligations, so our relationship with North Korea is very practical.”

Vnukov’s unusually forthright remark came at a time when Seoul is trying to get the UN Security Council to officially condemn North Korea for attacking the warship Cheonan and killing 46 Navy soldiers, a claim Pyongyang vehemently denies. South Korea wants a council resolution or at least a presidential statement, which is less binding on its members. The votes of Russia and China are considered the hardest for Seoul to swing. A resolution cannot pass without a unanimous vote from five permanent members of the council.

Vnukov said it would take “two or three weeks” before the Kremlin announces its stand. Russian naval experts recently visited Seoul to examine the evidence and results of South Korea’s investigation of the sinking.

Vnukov also said Pyongyang’s unpaid debts to Russia tracing back to the Soviet era have strained diplomatic ties between the countries.

“It is a huge sum of money,” he said. “North Korea, they don’t have the willingness and don’t have any way of resolving this Soviet-era debt problem.”

Vnukov also said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Seoul for November’s G-20 summit will be a “turning point” in triggering more trade between the two countries.

“There will be a considerable package of large-scale contracts in business, scientific, technical and human aspects that will be signed during the visit,” he said.

Medvedev’s visit to Seoul will coincide with the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Vnukov said Russia wants more South Korean investment to develop its natural resources.

“We are the largest country in the world, have the richest resources ... we have everything necessary for very fast development, but what we need now is modernization,” he said. “So cooperation with your country is very important.”


By Jung Ha-won [hawon@joongang.co.kr]

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