28.10.2023 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

Regarding the Russian Foreign Minister’s visit to the DPRK

Regarding the Russian Foreign Minister’s visit to the DPRK

On October 18–19, 2023, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov paid a ceremonial visit to Pyongyang to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and the DPRK. Following a summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on September 13, the visit was officially announced to the Russian Foreign Minister on October 16, who accepted the invitation to visit the country.

What was the visit’s program?

On October 18, Sergey Lavrov arrived in Pyongyang. According to the Korean Central New Agency of North Korea (KCNA), “a warm atmosphere prevailed at Pyongyang International Airport, where the Russian mission will arrive for a visit to our country at a time when passions for friendship are more heated than ever from the recent historic meeting between the two leaders.” RIA Novosti also released video of his arrival, showing almost three hundred people greeting him with flowers at the airport in spite of the rain, many of them dressed in national costumes. The arrangements were more subdued when Lavrov previously traveled to North Korea in 2018 for a formal visit to meet with Kim Jong-un, as RBC reports.

At the ramp, Lavrov was greeted by his counterpart, Choe Son-hui, representatives from the DPRK Foreign Ministry, Alexander Matsegora, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to the DPRK, and the embassy staff.

The DPRK government organized a gala reception on October 18, which included a concert by Band of the State Affairs Commission of North Korea and the State Merited Chorus. Russian songs were performed throughout the event.

Choe Son-hui emphasized in her speech that the friendly relations between Korea and Russia, which have been firmly established over the centuries, now further developing into an unbreakable comradely relationship and into a future-oriented eternal thanks to the strategic decision and wise leadership of Comrade Kim Jong-un, Chairman of State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, President of the Russian Federation. She expressed her support for Russia’s Special Military Operation’s strategy in this situation.

In his reply, Sergey Lavrov wished everyone a happy 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations while honoring the DPRK’s founder, Comrade Kim Il Sung, who was instrumental in the establishment of Russian-Korean relations, and Comrade Kim Jong Il, who significantly contributed to the growth and fortification of our friendship.

Due to the regrettable persistence of American imperialism and Japanese militarism, the Minister underlined that “under these conditions, our mutual solidarity, based on historical, fraternal ties, acquires special significance.” Since the DPRK is a genuinely independent state that continuously maintains its sovereignty and security and does not fall prey to various manipulations from the US and the West, it can freely announce its sympathy with the Russian Federation and, unlike other nations, has the opportunity to speak about it directly. We highly appreciate your principled, unambiguous support for Russia’s actions in connection with the special military operation in Ukraine and your support in terms of your recognition of the incorporation of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, Zaporizhzhya, and Kherson regions into the Russian Federation, Lavrov added. The Russian Federation, on the other hand, declares its unwavering sympathy and support for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), under the leadership of Comrade Kim Jong-un, in their desire to preserve their independence and the freedom of their people to choose their own course in life.

The following day, Sergey Lavrov placed a basket of flowers on the bronze monument of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong Il on Mansudae and the Liberation Monument to honor Red Army soldiers. The Minister and his accompanying officials honored the memory of the fallen Soviet soldiers who, with a noble spirit of internationalism, committed brilliant feats in the just and sacred war for the liberation of Korea. Then Sergey Lavrov laid a wreath at the Cemetery of Soviet Soldiers in the Sadon district of Pyongyang, paying tribute to the Red Army soldiers who died in the battles to liberate Korea from Japanese occupation.

During the day, Lavrov also placed flowers on a bas-relief honoring Russian diplomat Andrei Karlov, who led the diplomatic mission to Pyongyang in the early 2000s before passing away in Ankara in 2016.

Ministerial talks followed. Before they started, Sergey Lavrov thanked everyone for the customary hospitality of the Korean people and mentioned how, seventy-five years ago, the Soviet Union—which was instrumental in freeing Korea from Japanese colonial rule—was the first to recognize the newly formed state of Korea and then helped it advance its national economy, science, culture, and educational system. He noted the invaluable contributions that Comrade Kim Il Sung and then Comrade Kim Jong Il made to the establishment of our relations. After the summit at the cosmodrome, relations between the two countries have reached a qualitatively new strategic level, and our task now is to achieve full implementation of all agreements reached at the Vostochny cosmodrome.

As reported in the Telegram channel of the Russian Foreign Ministry, during negotiation with Choe Son-hui, the relevant issues in the bilateral relationship were discussed in detail. The topics of full execution of the agreements made during the meetings and negotiations between the chiefs of state of Russia and the DPRK on April 25, 2019, and September 13, 2023, received particular attention. Lavrov described the discussions with Choe Son-hui as comprehensive, targeted discussions covering every aspect of their mutual exchange.

There was discussion of three sets of questions. First, once the pandemic’s effects are resolved and the applicable restrictions are removed, there is a chance for more intense political discourse and the restoration of formal interactions, particularly through foreign policy organizations.

The second is the potential for trade and economic cooperation targeted at igniting particular facets of real-world cooperation.

The third was exchanging opinions about the state of affairs in Northeast Asia and the Korean Peninsula. The parties reaffirmed their dedication to finding diplomatic and political solutions to the current issues, their readiness to work together to lower regional tensions, and their resolve to oppose US hegemonic aspirations that would worsen the situation in the Asia-Pacific region. Respecting one another’s security interests and working toward fair agreements are the cornerstones of our shared interest in maintaining peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

An agreement to arrange interministerial exchanges between Russia and the DPRK was signed in the wake of their negotiations in 2024–2025.

Sergey Lavrov invited North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui to visit Moscow at a convenient time.

Following discussions with the North Korean Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov was received by Kim Jong-un, Chairman of State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. On behalf of the Russian president, Sergey Lavrov sent “best wishes and confirmation of readiness to fulfill all” commitments made during Kim Jong-un’s visit to Russia before to the commencement of negotiations with the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “The relevant work has already begun”.

In response, Kim Jong-un conveyed his profound thanks and requested that Sergey Lavrov deliver his sincere greetings to Comrade Putin and the fraternal Russian people on behalf of the party, the government, and the people. “Now, after our meeting with President Putin in Russia in September of this year, the real friendship between our countries is heating up; there is a very good atmosphere, and our people pay great attention to the relations between our countries. It’s very nice that I’m meeting you in such a situation, Comrade Minister,“ Kim Jong-un emphasized.

Kim Jong-un and Sergey Lavrov reached consensus on important matters of shared interest after a cordial discussion that lasted little more than an hour in a discreet and comfortable setting. These include the DPRK and the Russian Federation’s proactive response to the complex regional and global situation, which is based on strong political and strategic mutual trust, as well as the methodical expansion of bilateral ties in all directions through cooperative efforts.

Sergey Lavrov reaffirmed at the press conference that followed his visit to the DPRK that our country is close to and has long been a partner of the DPRK and that the strengthening of peace and security in Northeast Asia is a result of the progressive development of bilateral relations between Moscow and Pyongyang. In this regard, Washington’s policy of moving parts of its strategic infrastructure, including nuclear components, to the region, as well as the growing military activities of the US, Japan, and South Korea here are major concerns for both nations. Additionally, they support regular, unconditional negotiations on security-related matters on the Korean Peninsula. “We oppose the course to ensure de-escalation here and the inadmissibility of escalation of tension in response to this unconstructive and dangerous line. Along with China and the DPRK, we are pursuing this course,” Lavrov declared.

The questions and answers block seemed to be quite intriguing. It’s worth noting it in full.

Question: A month ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Russian territory. The whole world, especially the West, followed this meeting closely. Vladimir Putin agreed to travel to the DPRK. Why is the West so afraid of our friendship?

Sergey Lavrov: Why should I have to respond to that question?

I can only comment in general on what the West has been doing, not just in relation to our relations with North Korea but with any part of the world. The West feels it has the right, mainly, the USA (the Americans have long subdued the rest of the West) to make decisions for everyone else, including who needs to follow prohibitions, who to meet with, and who to reach an agreement with. The US keeps putting forward, “You must and you ought to.” Russian President Vladimir Putin said it many times. Who owes whom and who owns what?

Question: Seoul anticipates a developing bloc confrontation in the area that may prove to be even more consequential than it was during the Cold War. Do you agree with this statement? What is the change of transition to the intense military stage of the conflict? What steps is Russia doing to avoid this?

Sergey Lavrov: As for Seoul’s statements, it is precisely one of the factors that has escalated tensions in the region. It has already been mentioned about the potential of the US-South Korea-Japan triple alliance to build up military potential, including its nuclear components. That’s what creates tension.

Rather than raising the alarm over this, our South Korean counterparts ought to have modified these plans and adopted an alternative stance, which would have included resuming discussions on peace and security in Northeast Asia. Such negotiations have been taking place. They were interrupted not on our initiative, not on China’s initiative, and not on the DPRK’s initiative. They persisted in putting unreasonable demands on the DPRK, including the demand for unilateral concessions that were obviously unachievable. We are currently seeing an increasingly alarming situation. However, (as we’ve already covered with Comrade Foreign Minister) Russia and DPRK, as well as PRC support dialogue and the resumption of negotiations without preconditions. I believe, the Southeast Asia as a whole will mostly support this strategy.

Question: Would you recommend tourists to have a vacation in North Korea?

Sergey Lavrov: I would.

Question: John Kirby, Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council in the White House, has made it known in the public eye that Pyongyang has reportedly sent thousands of containers filled with military supplies to Moscow within the last two months. The Washington Post then released presumably authentic satellite photos in response to this information. What’s in there?

Sergey Lavrov: I don’t comment on rumors. It is nothing new for Americans to blame everyone for everything.

On the evening of October 19, Sergey Lavrov left Pyongyang. “At Pyongyang International Airport, many people warmly saw off Russian friends, waving state flags of the two countries—DPRK and Russia—and bouquets of flowers .

What was the agreement? “The current visit provides us with very good opportunities to review each agreement, achieved at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, in detail, and to outline practical steps in order to guarantee full implementation and realization of each of these agreements,” Sergey Lavrov stressed in his speech during the reception. According to what was said during the press conference, “coordinating our actions at the UN and other multilateral venues” is one such move.

For his part, Lavrov said, “We have confirmed our principled support for the actions of the Russian Federation to repel the aggression unleashed against us by the Western “group” led by the USA, using Ukraine as a tool.”

Before the negotiations with Kim Jong-un, Sergey Lavrov noted that “in November 2023, Pyongyang is scheduled to host the 10th meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission for Trade, Economic, Scientific, and Technical Cooperation. Its co-chairs from both Russia and the DPRK met in Moscow in late September 2023 to prepare the meeting.” The minister stated that the agenda items included plans for energy supplies and collaboration in geological exploration. Based on the minister’s comments, it appears that tourism was also touched upon, a topic we will address in a different piece.

Now let’s discuss the reaction of South Korea. The visit was announced in the media a few days after the White House claimed that Pyongyang had shipped Russia over a thousand containers filled with munitions and military hardware for use in Ukraine. Additionally, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) of the United Kingdom has made public a number of commercial satellite photos alleging to depict two Russian ships transporting several hundred containers to and from a port in North Korea.

Containers of the same size and color were later observed being delivered to a Russian ammunition store close to the Ukrainian border, despite RUSI’s admission that it is impossible to determine their contents.

Seoul denounced the aforementioned disclosures, asserting that any illicit arms transaction with North Korea has to be discontinued due to its contravention of UN Security Council resolutions. Sung Kim, US Special Representative for North Korea, described the alliance between Russia and North Korea as “disturbing.

As Hong Min, a senior scholar at the Korea Institute for National Unification, pointed out, the visit provided North Korea’s development of strategic weapons credibility through diplomatic assistance. This is the second line of response from South Korea’s specialists and the media.

Unification ministry deputy spokesperson Kim In-ae stated, “We hope that North Korea will choose the right path so that Russian-North Korean cooperation will develop in a direction that can truly improve the living conditions of the people of North Korea.” The ministry reiterated its position on resuming dialog with the North without preconditions, making it clear that this had nothing to do with the process mentioned by Lavrov.

To sum up:

  • The visit is thought to be a prelude to the summit, the dates of which are still pending. The parties agreed that the agreements reached by the leaders of the two countries would be implemented in “good faith”.
  • Numerous ceremonial occasions that highlight long-standing friendships and show support for one another on important subjects. Russia and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have a long-term, “strategic trust relationship” that is “future-oriented”.
  • The two sides highlighted their shared strategy of opposing American hegemony at the regional and global levels, which included enhancing cooperation on security between the USA, South Korea, and Japan. The alternative is to support the negotiation process on the topic of security on the Korean Peninsula without preconditions.
  • Except for sweeping language like “a frank exchange of views on important issues of mutual interest was held, consensus in views was reached,” and the issue of strengthening bilateral connections and contacts “in all areas and directions” was agreed upon, the core of the agreements is not exposed.


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.”

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