Russia welcomed the outcome of the US-North Korea summit of June 12 but, like most countries in the region, was anxious to be involved in consequent developments. Russian concerns were expressed by FM Lavrov in a press conference on June 13: that the major focus was on de-nuclearization of North Korea, whereas the real issue is de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. He added that de-nuclearization and security guarantees in the region cannot be ensured purely bilaterally between the US and North Korea.
Russia and China established intensive contact at the level of Presidents Putin and Xi to strategize on next steps on Korea. While China hosted North Korea’s Chairman Kim before and after his meeting with President Trump,
President Putin received a high-level North Korean dignitary, the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim Yong-nam, in Moscow, assured him of Russia’s political and economic support and reiterated his invitation to Chairman Kim Jong-un to visit Russia, either at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok (Russia’s major international economic forum in the Far East) or for a bilateral visit. Russian reports suggested that Russia was preparing to resume normal economic engagement with North Korea, lifting sanctions. In his call to FM Lavrov on June 18, Secretary Pompeo may have cautioned that it was premature.
Shortly thereafter, the President of the Republic of Korea visited Moscow for discussions on strengthening an economic partnership which has surged in recent years. Bilateral trade grew over 25% over the previous year, to about $20 billion in 2017. South Korean investment in Russia is about $1.2 billion, with further investment in the Arctic hydrocarbon projects under negotiation. Significantly, President Moon announced that the two sides would launch joint bilateral studies on linking railways, electric power grids and gas supplies, in preparation for projects of trilateral cooperation between South Korea, North Korea and Russia – these projects have been of long-standing interest to Russia. President Putin has hosted South Korean Presidents and Japanese PM Abe, jointly and individually, at the Eastern Forum in past years. If North Korean Chairman Kim were also to join the Forum this September, it would be a significant coup for Russia – to get the three leaders together on the same platform.
June 30, 2018