South Korea’s National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong was the first to make the historic announcement that a sitting US President would meet with a North Korean head of state. He made his statement on the White House lawn after concluding meetings in Kim Jong-un and his colleagues in Pyongyang. Tomorrow, Chung Eui-yong will be in Moscow for discussions with Russian officials.
Russia currently enjoys historically good relations with Seoul, while over the course of the last year, Russia has intensified diplomatic talks with Pyongyang. Russia’s high level discussions with officials from both Korean states have doubtlessly proved invaluable to the current Korean rapprochement. Crucially, an early moment of trans-Korean unity came in the autumn of 2017 when both sides agreed in principle, to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposals for a tripartite economic cooperation scheme between Seoul, Pyongyang and Moscow.
While China is experiencing relatively poor relations with Pyongyang due to what is allegedly a frosty relationship between Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un, who have never met in person, Beijing has been happy for Russia to facilitate diplomatic endeavours in the service of the joint Sino-Russian double-freeze proposals to end the militarisation of the Korean peninsula by all parties.
During the Cold War, while Pyongyang avoided taking sides in the Sino-Soviet split, the DPRK traditionally enjoyed closer relations with Moscow than Beijing, partly due to the fact that the DPRK industrialised its post-war economy on the Soviet model rather than the Maoist model.
Today, Russia, like China seeks the de-militarisation of US facilities in South Korea while both superpowers continue to call for a nuclear free Korea. It is clear that the ‘behind the scenes’ steps to facilitate the current thaw in trans-Korean relations has been a product of local and regional endeavours by Seoul, Pyongyang, Moscow and China. By contrast, Tokyo and Washington have had little directly to do with the ongoing peace process, in spite the American and Japanese people clearly reaping the benefits of reduced military tensions in Korea.
While Chung Eui-yong’s agenda for Moscow has not been made public at this time, in addition to further discussions regarding President Putin’s tripartite economic cooperation initiative, Chung may discuss setting a venue for the Kim Jong-un/Donald Trump summit which according to the US President will occur sometime before May of this year.
Russia’s quiet role in facilitating recent breakthroughs between the two Korean states as well as between Pyongyang and Washington, should not be overlooked. In the coming weeks and months, it will likely become clearer just what Russia did and said in order to pave the way for mutual suspicions giving way to the early stages of a meaningful Korean detente.