[Viewpoint] President’s visit to Russia ... why?

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[Viewpoint] President’s visit to Russia ... why?

Amid the controversial resignation of Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Yu Myung-hwan, President Lee Myung-bak visits Russia today.

Lee is to make a keynote speech at the Global Policy Forum in the historic city of Yaroslavl on the Volga River.

He is also scheduled to have a summit meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

The Yaroslavl forum is known as a major event in Russia to which Medvedev gives great attention. More than 500 leaders in politics, business and academia will engage in discussions under the theme, “The Modern State: Standards of Democracy and Criteria of Efficiency.”

Medvedev hopes to elevate the status of Russia in the international community.

It was Medvedev himself who first conveyed the intention to invite Lee. According to a source in the Foreign Ministry, Medvedev suggested that Lee attend the forum during a telephone conversation in May regarding the Cheonan sinking.

Lee was invited, the ministry said, because of Medvedev’s interest in how Korea was able to industrialize and democratize in such a short period of time.

That reason seems to be wishful thinking on the ministry’s part. After all, only two incumbent foreign heads of states - the other one is Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi - are slated to attend the event.

The government has also emphasized the importance of the Korea-Russia relationship and the 20th anniversary of the friendship, but some wonder if there might be other reasons.

Coincidentally, on the day the Blue House announced Lee’s visit to Russia, The New York Times featured an article by Donald Gregg, former U.S. ambassador to Korea.

Gregg wrote: “One problem .?.?. is that not everybody agrees that the Cheonan was sunk by North Korea,” and cited words from a “well-placed Russian friend.”

The Russian government has not made the report by the Russian investigators public “because it would do much political damage to President Lee Myung-bak and would embarrass President Barack Obama.”

Gregg was a close friend of former President Kim Dae-jung and is an avid supporter of the Sunshine Policy, but that does not make his words any less credible.

He served as the chief of the Korean desk for the Central Intelligence Agency and was the national security adviser to Vice President George H.W. Bush during the Ronald Reagan administration. As the chairman of the Korea Society, a nonprofit organization with huge influence over Korea-U.S. relations, Gregg is a Korean Peninsula expert and a very influential figure. That’s why his column is creating ripples.

Russia was the only country to send its own team of specialists to Korea to investigate the Cheonan incident. The U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Sweden were involved in the investigation team led by Korea. Three months have passed since then, but the Russian government has yet to make the results of its investigation public. It looks as if Moscow is teasing Seoul.

Powerful countries often reframe their actual interests with various feel-good causes and justifications. Some disguise their intentions in sophisticated packaging and others are cruder in disguising ulterior motives. While some try to be subtle, others are openly wily.

So it was a diplomatic mistake to allow the Russian team to investigate the case without considering the possibility of Moscow using the Cheonan incident politically.

Just as Yale University professor and historian Paul Kennedy recently wrote in The New York Times, Korea can never be Asia’s Switzerland no matter how much the economy prospers.

The geopolitical situation, which involves regional powers, demands a multidimensional foreign policy strategy. No matter how valuable the Korea-U.S. alliance might be, it cannot offer everything and it cannot be a purpose all by itself.

The Korea-U.S. alliance is only a means to accomplish higher values such as stability, peace and unification of the Korean Peninsula.

But ever since the Lee administration took the helm, the Korea-U.S. alliance seems to be threatening the peace and stability of the peninsula and making unification even more distant. And it’s why the administration is criticized for its defunct diplomacy.

All of a sudden, the Russian media reported that Moscow plans to issue an investigation report with no clear conclusion, to be delivered to Seoul through a diplomatic channel.

It might be out of consideration to lessen pressure on Lee in Russia.

The Cheonan incident certainly is the hot potato of Korean foreign policy. I hope that Lee can reflect on the problems of diplomacy and use the opportunity to correct the faults while he travels to Russia with the foreign minister vacancy.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


By Bae Myung-bok

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