Asia/Europe politics: Quick View - Russia willing to play bigger role in North Korea crisis

Content Type
Country Data and Maps
Economist Intelligence Unit
No abstract is available.
International Relations, Politics, News Analysis, Forecast
Political Geography
Russia, Japan, South Korea, North Korea


On September 5th Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, met with Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, and Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, to discuss the North Korea crisis during the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok.


Russia's long-term foreign policy objectives appear twofold: first, to prevent any of Russia's neighbouring countries from joining western institutions, such as the EU or NATO (such a threat is obviously not at play with North Korea); and second, to position Russia as a major player on the global stage-a great power, if no longer a superpower. This explains Russia's determination to act as a mediator in the unravelling North Korea crisis, just as it has done in the Syria crisis since 2011 and in Venezuela in August 2017.

Russia's willingness to intervene in the North Korea crisis follows its traditional approach to foreign policy. Mr Putin opposes further financial sanctions, which he says do not work-an unsurprising move, given that Russia is under EU and US sanctions for its actions in Ukraine-and favours dialogue with all parties in the conflict. Russia tries to position itself as a cold-headed, rational power with a global reach. Mr Putin declared that North Koreans would rather eat grass than give up nuclear weapons.

Russia has long-standing ties with North Korea-with which it shares a land border-as the two countries shared a socialist ideology until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. In addition, thousands of poorly skilled North Korean migrants work in the Russian far-east. Furthermore, Russia appears to have financial and commercial ties with North Korea, as US sanctions imposed in August over Russian entities and individuals conducting business with North Korea illustrated. Finally, international media reported in August that North Korea might have benefited from the help of a Ukrainian factory located near the eastern Donbas region, which Russia de facto controls through the militias that it backs. Some analysts point to the territorial continuity between this factory, Russia and North Korea, suggesting possible Russian involvement in North Korea's nuclear programme.

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