Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has met with the DPRK’s head of state Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang to discuss the ongoing Korean peace process. After laying flowers at the memorial for DPRK founder Kim Il-Sung and his successor Kim Jong-Ill, Lavrov and Kim appeared before the cameras where the DPRK leader passed his best regards to President Putin via Lavrov. Kim said the following about Russia during his meeting with the Foreign Minister, “I appreciate that the government of Putin opposes the U.S. domination [of the world]. We are always ready to negotiate with the Russian side on a deep unification on this issue”.
After the meeting Sergey Lavrov suggested that as part of the ongoing peace process the international community should reverse the UN Security Council sanctions passed against the DPRK as Pyongyang is cooperating fully with efforts to de-escalate tensions in Korea. The Russian Foreign Minister stated,
“As for sanctions, it is absolutely obvious that, as we start discussions on how to resolve the nuclear problem on the Korean peninsula, it is understood that the solution cannot be comprehensive without the lifting of sanctions.
This cannot be achieved at one go. There can be no immediate denuclearization, this should be done step by step and all sides should go halfway during every single phase of this process”.
He stated that while rolling back sanctions will likely not be accomplished all it once, the process of rolling back sanctions should begin at a UN level as soon as realistically possible. Lavrov continued,
“But as soon as their agreements are offered to the international community for scrutiny, the UN Security Council might need to support certain initiatives, and we will be ready to back concrete agreements that are in the interest of all parties involved, including that of North Korea.
We welcome the contacts that have been intensively forming in the past months between North Korea and South Korea, between the North and the United States. We urge all parties involved to remember about their responsibility for this very fragile process to avoid its breakdown. Our common understanding with North Korea is that everyone should tread carefully when it comes to the fledgling contacts and revival of ties between the two Koreas, and between North Korea and the United States
One should not be tempted to demand that everything happens at once because we see how complex this problem is”
#Лавров во время встречи с Председателем Госсовета КНДР Ким Чен Ыном: Заинтересованы в том, чтобы как на Корейском полуострове, так и в целом в Северо-Восточной Азии была обстановка мира, стабильности и процветанияhttps://t.co/tkYW32AVju pic.twitter.com/5WNZB7pkI9
— МИД России 🇷🇺 (@MID_RF) May 31, 2018
This represents Russia’s most elaborate statement to-date regarding Moscow’s views on the Korean peace process. As one of the DPRK’s neighbours, Russia is in a crucial position to not only push for a rolling back of sanctions on Pyongyang, but to help create new economic opportunities for pan-Korean connectivity to Russia. In so far as this is the case, it is important to remember that long before the current peace process was even discussed and while Beijing and Pyongyang were still going through a frosty period in relations, Vladimir Putin proposed a Russia/North-South Korea Transport Corridor that is already quietly taking shape thanks to Moscow’s warm relations with Pyongyang, Seoul and Beijing.
In September of 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted the annual Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. As Vladivostok is the closest major Russian city to the Korean border, it was an appropriate forum for Putin to propose a planned tripartite economic cooperation scheme between Russia and the two Korean states. South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended the meeting and expressed his enthusiasm for the project while a delegation from the DPRK (North Korea) expressed an equal amount of enthusiasm but stated that their participation in the project would be delayed until various security risks could be adequately addressed.
Earlier in May of 2018, the DPRK’s period of hesitation in respect of the project appeared to come to an end as it was announced that Russia and the DPRK will build a highway linking the DPRK to Russia. Currently, the roads between the Russian and DPRK borders are small and in poor repair. Because of this most trade between Russia and the DPRK must pass through China whose road links to the DPRK are far more advanced.
This road is the key element in bringing Putin’s tripartite economic proposal to life and will help to create a new transport corridor linking the south coast of the Korean peninsula with Russia for the first time in contemporary history. In addition to a Russia-Korea transport corridor, the project will also likely include a new Russia to Korea pipeline. While South Korea continues to purchase more energy from Russia, the division of the Korean peninsula had prohibited an easy natural gas pipeline route from Russia into South Korea. With the rapid rapprochement of the two Korean states it will soon be possible for Russia to have a clear pipeline and transport route into both Korean states, something that will be to the economic benefit of all three state partners. While Russia maintains historically strong diplomatic and economic relations with the DPRK, Russia’s trade with South Korea continues to rise while Presidents Putin and Moon maintain a warm relationship.
This new reality of a forthcoming highway linking South Korea to Russia via the DPRK will itself play an important role in integrating the Korean peninsula into China’s One Belt–One Road trading and global logistics initiative, in which Russia continues to be a key partner. This is yet a further example of how the Korean peace process has helped to foster a revived spirit of pan-Asian cooperation on the win-win model of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
While Russia has emphasised its seemingly voluntary “inability” to convince either side about whether a Trump-Kim summit should go ahead, in reality, Moscow is well aware that the biggest stumbling bloc to such a process is the infighting in the Trump White House which has pitted expressly anti-peace neocons against Donald Trump’s personal desire to “strike a deal” with Kim Jong-un, one which Trump’s followers indicated could earn the US President a Nobel Peace Prize before the would-be/will-be summit was even held.
All current indicators point to Kim and Trump meeting in Singapore going ahead either on or around the originally scheduled date of 12 June. Because of this, Russia is less focused on the overt melodrama regarding “will Kim meet Trump” and far more concerned with not allowing the vast opportunities of a post-sanctions DPRK to slip away.
In this sense, as the Asian authored, owned and executed peace process continues to move forward in spite of the counter-productive mixed signals from Washington. Russia’s goal in the peace process is therefore two-fold. Like China, Russia is lending its weight as a superpower towards pushing the US and other possibly sceptical parties to realising that the de-nuclearisation is merely the beginning rather than the end of the peace process and that crucially, the DPRK’s legitimate security concerns regarding American militarisation of Korea must be fully addressed in order for the peace process to be deemed successful. Furthermore, while negotiations about de-nuclearisation and the pacification of Korea as a whole continue, Russia will be working ever more intensely with both of its Korean state partners in order to being building a Russia-Korea Transport Corridor that will help to produce peace through prosperity in the wider region. Such a Russia-Korea Transport Corridor can then be easily harmonised into China’s One Belt–One Road.
At the conclusion of Sergey Lavrov’s meeting with Kim Jong-un, the Russian Foreign Minister invited Kim to Moscow. If Kim travels to Moscow, this would represent only the third time Kim has travelled abroad during his leadership of the DPRK, as thus far he has only had two visits to China for meetings with President Xi Jinping, while Kim’s meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in cannot be called “foreign visits” in the traditional sense. Thus, Russia is in a crucial position as one of the DPRK’s three neighbours to help facilitate a peace process that opens up new literal and metaphorical corridors for future trade between all regional parties to the peace process.