In Russia’s best interestSouth Korean President Moon Jae-in asked Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit on Wednesday for Russia to play a bigger role in addressing the increasing nuclear threat from North Korea. Putin’s reaction was disappointing. While criticizing the North’s sixth nuclear test, allegedly of a hydrogen bomb, on Sunday, the Russian leader maintained a lukewarm position, saying that pressure and sanctions alone cannot solve the problem.
Russia — a longtime ally of North Korea along with China — can wield significant influence over the rogue state across its southern border. One of the North’s major oil suppliers (together with China), Russia has recently increased its trade with North Korea noticeably. In fact, the trade volume between Russia and North Korea surged by a whopping 73 percent in the first half of the year compared to the same period last year. North Korea also sends a number of workers to Russia to make incomes in foreign currency. Given the North’s remarkably high dependence on Russia, a call from international society for a larger role by Russia is gaining momentum.
But Russia has maintained a negative attitude toward effective resolution of the North Korean nuclear crisis even while condemning Pyongyang for belligerent behavior. Russia has gone so far as to put the brakes on the toughest-ever UN sanctions the United Nations Security Council has been pushing since the North’s sixth nuclear test in Punggye-ri, North Hamkyung.
South Korea and Russia can be win-win partners in developing Russia’s underdeveloped Far East region called Primorsky Krai. Both sides can gain enormous economic benefits through a myriad of joint projects as envisioned in President Moon’s so-called “New Northern Policy” and Putin’s New East Policy aimed at developing local infrastructure, including construction of a Siberian gas pipeline, and excavating abundant natural resources in the region.
If such a grand plan is to succeed, some conditions should be met. One of them is stability in Northeast Asia. But North Korea is just a few inches away from perfecting technologies for ICBMs following its production of nuclear bombs. Due to the North’s increasingly aggressive posture, we can hardly expect economies to boom in East Asia.
If Russia really wants economic development in the Far East, it must remove the biggest obstacle: nuclear threats from the North. Putin must keep in mind that resolution of the crisis will surely help Russia’s national interests.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 7, Page 30