Academic journal article Asian Perspective

The Revival of Russia's Role on the Korean Peninsula

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

The Revival of Russia's Role on the Korean Peninsula

Article excerpt

The death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2011 presents Russian president Vladimir Putin with an opportunity to regain influence on the Korean peninsula. Over the long term, Russia may reemerge as a great power in the Asia Pacific region in line with Russian geostrategic interests. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has been marginalized on major issues in Northeast Asia. The prospect of a consistent, long-term North Korea policy under Putin places Moscow in a strong position to sustain the process of engagement with North Korea. More significantly, it serves Moscow's demographic, economic, and security interests to be a positive influence in the region in order to regain a diplomatic role in any security initiatives concerning the Korean peninsula. In this article, we argue that if and when the Russian Far East is developed, Moscow would be in a position to offset the regional strategic and economic dominance of the United States and China. KEYWORDS: Russia, North Korea, Eurasianism, Russian Far East, counterbalance, China, United States.

THE DEATH OF KIM JONG-IL IN DECEMBER 2011 PLACES THE NORTHeast Asian region at a crossroads, presenting Russian president Vladimir Putin with an opportunity to restore Russia's influence on the Korean peninsula. In the days that followed Kim's death, speculation was widespread over the extent to which his son and successor, Kim Jong-un, would be able to consolidate power in North Korea. Given the youth and political inexperience of the younger Kim, some analysts feared that the vice chairman of the National Defense Commission (NDC), General Jang Song-thaek, would usurp power from Kim Jong-un. Equally, given the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's (DPRK) past record of belligerent behavior, there were concerns that an unstable succession there would result in episodes similar to the sinking of the Republic of Korea (ROK) corvette Cheonan and the bombardment of Yeongpyong Island in 2010.

Yet, in direct contrast to these concerns, in the months following Kim Jong-un's succession Pyongyang sent mixed signals. On the one hand it resumed talks in Beijing with the US special representative for North Korean policy, Glyn Davies. These talks resulted in the Leap Year Agreement of February 29, 2012, in which the DPRK conceded to suspend nuclear activity under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection in exchange for food aid. But the agreement was followed by Pyongyang's failed test of its Kwangmyongsong satellite in mid-April ("UN 'Deplores' North Korea Botched Rocket Launch" 2012). Since the Kwangmyongsong incorporated dual-use technology derived from the Taepodong missile, 1 the launch fueled regional concerns that the DPRK had no intention of ending its missile and nuclear weapon programs ("Project Paperclip: Dark Side of the Moon" 2005). The DPRK's conflicting signals resulted in a renewed impasse in the Six Party Talks, reflected in the Obama administration's decision to nullify the Leap Year Agreement and suspend humanitarian aid to Pyongyang ("US Suspends Plans for Food Aid to North Korea" 2012).

Of considerable importance is that leadership transitions have occurred or are pending in three other key members of the Six Party Talks-namely, China, the Republic of Korea (ROK), and the United States.2 The reelection of Barack Obama promises continuity in US policy, whereas South Korea's next presidential election may well produce a change in policy toward North Korea. In China, new leadership under Xi Jinping quickly led to a reaffirmation of ties with the DPRK when a high-level Chinese delegation met with Kim Jong-un in November 2012.

Seen in this context, Moscow's interest may rise in regaining a diplomatic foothold in any security initiatives concerning the Korean peninsula. More importantly, a stabilized Northeast Asia would be an environment conducive to foreign investment that would contribute to the economic development of the Russian Far East. …

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