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What Putin Wants with North Korea

May 2, 2019 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

The Trump administration continues to pay a high price for
treating Russia as an enemy. Vladimir Putin has dealt himself back
into the Korea game. He could be helpful if it was worth his while.
But as long as Washington undermines Moscow’s interests, Putin will
toss some cogs into the proverbial wheel.

The collapse of the Soviet Union for a time turned Moscow into a
geopolitical irrelevancy. Nowhere was that more obvious than in
North Korea. The new Russian Federation recognized South Korea,
earning a cascade of insults and fulminations from the Democratic
People’s Republic of Korea. Pyongyang’s protestations bothered the
Yeltsin government not at all since the South offered better
economic opportunities.

Since then Putin has returned Russia to the DPRK, though
cautiously and modestly, to be sure. Last week he met North Korean
Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un in Vladivostok.

It was a low-key affair held on a university campus with no
statement issued, very different from last year’s dramatic
meeting between Kim and Donald Trump in Singapore. The North Korean
leader called Vladivostok a “very meaningful one-on-one
exchange of opinions on issues of mutual interest and current
issues,” as if the two strongmen were buddies who grabbed a
drink and talked sports. But Kim’s latest diplomatic venture
gave Russia at least a toehold in the peninsula’s future.

Moscow has no core
national interests at stake, but it does see a chance to throw a
cog in Washington’s policy wheels.

The Soviet Union loomed large in Korean affairs following World
War II. Moscow and Washington divided the peninsula into two
occupation zones, which became separate states. The Soviets
anointed Kim Il-sung, an anti-Japanese guerrilla commander, to lead
the new North Korea. In 1950, Moscow also approved Kim’s
plans to invade the Republic of Korea, sparking the Korean War. But
Joseph Stalin avoided obvious direct involvement, leaving it to the
People’s Republic of China to save the DPRK following
America’s entry into the war.

With destalinization after Stalin’s death, Kim’s relations with
Moscow deteriorated and Pyongyang was in the process of creating an
even more suffocating personality cult. Although the North’s
relations with China also oscillated, the latter retained a greater
historical, cultural, and economic stake in its small neighbor. For
instance, when Beijing followed Russia in recognizing Seoul, the
DPRK had a much more measured reaction. Pyongyang couldn’t afford
to lose its only remaining significant ally.

Little changed for Moscow over the last three decades, and
Russia’s attention was firmly focused on the West, and the
expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, military
intervention in the Balkans, and aid to Georgia and Ukraine. But
the Putin government has begun reasserting …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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