The final article in this author’s series on the state visit by the leader of the DPRK to Russia will focus on its consequences for Russia’s relations with the Republic of Korea. After all, now we are already seeing the first political consequences of the strengthening of Moscow and Pyongyang.
The DPRK’s leadership placed a high value on the visit, and as readers may remember, while he was still in Russia Kim Jong-un stated that “now the first priority for our country is our relations with the Russian Federation.” As the KNCA later reported, “the traditional relations of friendship between the DPRK and the Russian Federation, consolidated in trials of history generation after generation and century after century, are further developing into the invincible comrade-in-arms relations and the ever-lasting strategic relations amid the deep friendship and special fellowship between Comrades Kin Jong-un and Putin.”
On September 20, Kim Jong-un was photographed with the members of the DPRK delegation who accompanied him on his visit to Russia, thus showing that he “highly appreciated the efforts made by the delegation members to ensure the successful visit to Russia.”
On September 23 the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced that he would visit North Korea in October. He also criticized the actions of the United States, Japan and South Korea in boosting their military presence on the Korean Peninsula and in the region, calling them an “overreaction.”
On September 25, at a press conference following the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, Sergey Lavrov reiterated: “In accordance with the decision of Kim Jong-un and President Vladimir Putin, we will arrange my talks in Pyongyang, which may indeed take place next month.”
On September 29, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Andrei Rudenko and the DPRK’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Im Chon-il, discussed the prospects for expanding bilateral cooperation between the two countries, with a focus on practical areas.
Also on September 29, the head of Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources, Alexander Kozlov, and the DPRK’s Minister of External Economic Relations, Yoon Jong-ho held talks, following which the press-service of Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources reported that a meeting of the intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation between Russia and North Korea will be held in Pyongyang in November. As reported by TASS, “North Korean leader Kim Jong-un proposed holding the meeting there during his visit to Russia in September. Shortly before the intergovernmental commission, we met with our Korean colleagues to discuss the list of issues that we will raise in the meeting, so that we have time to work on them and are ready to make decisions in the commission meeting. In effect, the intergovernmental commission is a “one-stop shop” in which foreign partners can cooperate with our country [i.e. Russia] as effectively as possible.”
In their talks, Alexander Kozlov and Yoon Jong-ho, the joint chairmen of the intergovernmental commission discussed the development of agricultural, cultural, educational and sports exchange programs between the two countries. “I am very grateful for the invitation, and for the opportunity to discuss our cooperation. I assure you that we will do our utmost to resolve all the issues which have been raised,” said Yoon Jong-ho in his welcoming remarks.
On the other hand, Seoul has actually believed the propaganda about the arms deal, and while there has been no change to the decision on the sending of lethal weapons to Ukraine, aggressive moves have been made.
In view of the expected meeting between the chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK and the Russian president, the South Korean presidential administration issued a statement expressing hope that “Russia will act responsibly as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.”
On September 14, official spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Lim Soo-suk said that “any overseas travel by persons sanctioned under resolutions of the United Nations Security Council without special permission from the UN Sanctions Committee is prohibited, and constitutes a violation of UNSC resolutions.”
On September 17, ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol told the Associated Press in a written interview that military cooperation between North Korea and Russia is “illegal and unjust” and that the international community will unite more closely against it.
On September 19, Chang Ho-jin, South Korea’s first deputy foreign minister summoned Russian Ambassador Andrei Kulik to the South Korean Foreign Ministry in order to convey Seoul’s serious concerns about the discussions held between Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un concerning arms sales and military and technical cooperation during their recent meeting. The South Korean government urged Russia to cease such activity and comply with UN Security Council resolutions as a “responsible permanent member of the UN Security Council.” In particular, the South Korean diplomat stated Seoul’s intention, through interaction with the international community, to take firm and open counter-measures in respect of any actions that violate the UN Security Council resolutions and threaten the national security of the Republic of Korea. He stressed that such actions would have a serious negative effect on relations between Russia and South Korea.
In response the Russian diplomat insisted that the claims about military and technical cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang were baseless rumors spread by the US, Western and South Korean media. Andrei Kulik stressed that in the course of developing mutually beneficial relations with North Korea, which is a good neighbor and long-time partner of the Russian Federation, Russia invariably complies with all its international obligations, and that the true threat to the security of the Korean Peninsula comes from the aggressive and unbalanced military actions of the United States and South Korea, which are aimed at containing the DPRK.
On September 20, speaking at the 78th UN General Assembly, Yoon Suk-yeol stated that if North Korea comes to acquire the information and technology necessary to boost its weapons of mass destruction capabilities in exchange for supporting Russia with conventional weapons, this will be a “direct provocation that threatens the peace and security… of South Korea.” “It is paradoxical that a permanent member of the UN Security Council, entrusted as the ultimate guardian of world peace, would wage war by invading another sovereign nation and receive arms and ammunition from a regime that blatantly violates UN Security Council resolutions,” Yoon Suk-yeol said. He added that South Korea, together with its allies and partners, will “not stand idly by.”
Also on September 20, during an open UN Security Council debate on the Ukraine issue, South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin announced that the agreement between Russia and the DPRK aimed at strengthening North Korea’s military potential was a violation of UN Security Council resolutions. The South Korean representative called on Moscow to comply with these obligations in full. Moreover, Park Jin described the special military operation as “a clear violation of international law” and explained that the steps taken by South Korea’s government were aimed at restoring peace and bringing an end to conflict.
In view of the above situation, Chang Ho-jin declared that if any tangible evidence of significant military and technical cooperation between Russia and the DPRK was found, then sanctions could be imposed – either unilaterally or in coordination with the West. When asked by a lawmaker in South Korea’s parliament whether Seoul would then reconsider its position on sending direct military aid to Ukraine, Chang Ho-jin said that such a step would have a significant negative impact on relations between Russia and South Korea.
The Russian embassy in Seoul expressed “deep regret” at the statements made by the South Korean president. As the embassy stated in its social media posts, Yoon Suk-yeol “joined the propaganda campaign initiated by Washington and picked up by the American and South Korean media, aimed at discrediting Russian-North Korean cooperation.” Russia “invariably complies with all of its international obligations,” including in relation to North Korea. The embassy urged Seoul to “base its actions on a sober and objective assessment of the situation and to consider the negative consequences of Seoul’s “continued pursuit of its anti-Russian line” on bilateral ties and on the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
As Russian Ambassador to Washington Anatoly Antonov said, “the attempts to label the productive and mutually beneficial Russian-North Korean dialogue as a driver of instability in the world are not only surprising but also repulsive.” “How should we then regard the White House’s efforts to build up coalitions in the Asia-Pacific region and expand the large-scale military drills, deploying US strategic assets, near the Korean Peninsula? Despite this, the Americans have no objection to violating their obligations. One of these factors is its policy of supplying huge quantities of arms to Kiev and putting pressure on its satellites to supply it with stocks of weaponry left over from the Soviet period,” he added.
His words were echoed by Pyotr Ilychev, Director of the Department of International Organizations at the Russian Foreign Ministry: “When the United States carries out large-scale exercises together with the South Koreans and Japanese, there is no reaction. The situation escalates, the Americans bring in progressively more and more arms and hold major drills. The North Koreans are forced to react.”
On September 21, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko met with South Korea’s Ambassador to Russia, Lee Do-hoon, to issue a reprimand concerning President Yoon’s remarks at the UN General Assembly. Andrei Rudenko said that the remarks “have seriously damaged relations between Russia and South Korea. Unfortunately, it seems that Seoul prefers to shape its policy toward Russia based on conjecture and speculation. This creates an unfavorable atmosphere for the development of bilateral cooperation, and is a source of disappointment.”
On September 22 South Korea’s Foreign Ministry called on Russia to “transparently explain” its recent relations with North Korea “so that the international community can determine that these are acceptable.” Also on September 22 foreign ministers from the QUAD forum (consisting of the US, Australia, India and Japan) called on all UN member states “to abide by the UN Security Council resolutions, including those barring any transfer of arms or related goods to or from North Korea.”
On September 25 North Korea’s KNCA published a pointed criticism of Yoon Suk-yeol’s comments: “Puppet traitor Yoon Suk-yeol, even at the 78th UN General Assembly, malignantly slandered the relations between the DPRK and Russia… voluntarily acting as a servile trumpeter and loudspeaker for the US.” It described the statements made by the South Korean president as “hysterical” and “slanderous,” and the president himself as lacking “elementary political knowledge and common sense concerning international relations,” adding that “no one in the world would lend an ear to his hysteric fit.”
In response, Koo Byoung-sam, a spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry stated that “North Korea slammed the head of our state with vulgar remarks, which shows that the substandard regime has no basic manners and common sense.”
On September 26 South Korea’s Ambassador to the United States, Cho Hyun-dong, said that the obvious strengthening of cooperation between Russia and North Korea was an “issue of greatest concern.” “While circumstantial (evidence) regarding an illicit arms trade between Russia and North Korea has emerged, the international community’s concerns about the two countries getting closer – as seen in their recent summit, which took place for the first time in four years – have been growing.” In his view, the alleged agreement between Moscow and Pyongyang, which Cho Hyun-dong, relying on doubtful and circumstantial evidence, believes exists, is a threat to the security both of Ukraine and of South Korea, and therefore, he continues, the “South Korea-US alliance
will never sit idly by when it comes to any threat to our security.”
On October 1, the DPRK’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Im Chon-il, issued a press statement once again criticizing “the hostility of the US and its attempts to interfere in the traditional friendly and cooperative relations between the DPRK and Russia.” This demonstrates the hegemonic thinking of the US, which is deeply entrenched its Cold War mentality. The relations between the DPRK and the Russian Federation, Im pointed out, are reaching new heights as a result of the strategic decision of the two countries’ leaders, and “serve as a powerful fortress and strategic stronghold for preserving peace and for deterring the imperialists’ high-handed and arbitrary practices, military threats and interference.”
Nevertheless, at present, it should be noted that Russia’s relations with South Korea have survived the disruption. After giving due consideration to Yoon Suk-yeol’s emotional reaction, it can be said that on the whole it resembles the kind of outburst common in relations between South Korea and Japan, when, in response to, say, the latest flare-up of tensions in relation to Dokdo Island, or some new history textbook, both sides summon each others’ ambassadors and reprimand them.
Now, it seems, Russia has informed Seoul about the results of the visit, and the fuss has died down. In any event, the long break for South Korea’s national holidays will also help normalize relations to a certain extent. However, it should be remembered that while Seoul would like to maintain the status quo in its relations with Moscow, the pressure on Seoul by Washington, Brussels and Kiev will continue. Water sharpens a stone. And if the South Korean president was taken in by one massive disinformation campaign, the present author is by no means confident that the next piece of propaganda injection will be any less successful.
Konstantin Asmolov, Candidate of Historical Sciences, Leading research fellow of the Center for Korean Studies at the Institute of China and Modern Asia of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.