By Chung Min-uck
Russia is in a dilemma dealing with North Korea’s provocations due to conflicting national interests, according to experts Friday.
“In order to resolve North Korea’s nuclear program, Russia needs to be tough when dealing with its Cold-War ally. However, its hard-line stance on the provocation could come at the expense of trade interests as Russia has moved to bolster trade ties with the two Koreas,” Chung Eun-sook, a senior fellow of the Sejong Institute, told The Korea Times.
Chung said Moscow has two key interests on the Korean peninsula. One is to find room for its influence amid an intensifying U.S.-China rivalry in the region and the other is trade, she said. Russia has stepped up efforts to realize a plan to provide natural gas to South Korea by way of the North and link the Trans-Siberian Railroad to the South via the inter-Korean railway.
Russia has walked a delicate line between security concerns and trade interests.
During nuclear summit talks held last month in Seoul, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev strongly denounced North Korea’s planned rocket launch saying Pyongyang should feed its people, not rely on provocation.
Russia, like China, has been against Pyongyang’s move that can put regional stability at risk, such as a rocket launch or a nuclear test.
Despite the strong rhetoric, Russia’s reaction to the launch was relatively weak.
Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it opposed adopting new UN Security Council sanctions against the reclusive regime expressing “regret” concerning the incident that sparked global concern.
“We are convinced that the reaction to these challenges needs to be exclusively diplomatic and political,” said Lavrov. “We do not believe in new sanctions. They would not do anything from the standpoint of settling the situation.”
Concerning the upcoming leadership change in Russia next month, experts predicted a policy shift on North Korea will be unlikely.
“It is true that Medvedev was more focused on modernizing the economy and took a moderate policy, but we have to understand that Putin has been wielding quite a lot of influence in Medvedev’s administration,” said Chung.
President-elect Vladimir Putin will replace Medvedev as a Russian leader on May 7.
Putin previously held the presidency from 2000 to 2008.
During his presidency, Putin sought to balance Moscow’s policy toward the peninsula trying to mediate in the issue of Pyongyang’s nuclear arms and missile programs.
“Though Putin is more of a hardliner compared to Medvedev, he will not want the fall of the North’s regime. Russia prioritizes stability on the Korean peninsula,” said Ko Jae-nam, a Russia expert at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, a training and research institute affiliated with the foreign ministry.
Russia is to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Russia’s Far East city of Vladivostok in September. Experts say that the selection of the location reflects Russia’s keen economic interest in the region.