Putin’s return to help enhance stability on Korean peninsula
By Chung Min-uck
Russian strongman Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency will likely help stabilize the murky situation on the Korean Peninsula surrounding North Korea’s provocation as a Putin-led Russia could be more aggressive than the previous administration, experts say.
On Monday, Putin was inaugurated as president for a six-year term after serving as prime minister for four years. Putin previously held the presidency from 2000 to 2008.
“Russia’s overall strategy toward the Korean Peninsula had stayed the same since Putin took the helm. Moscow sought stability on the peninsula for its practical interests,” said Ko Jae-nam, a Russia expert at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy.
“However, Putin puts more emphasis on national interest and security than his predecessor Dmitry Medvedev. Putin will reactivate Moscow’s role in the region by attempting to intervene in issues pertaining to North Korea’s provocative behaviors.”
After Putin’s initial inauguration in 2000, Moscow pursued various economic projects involving the two-Koreas to gain political leverage on the peninsula.
The trilateral projects include laying a gas pipeline that sends Russian gas to South Korea via North Korea, and connecting the trans-Siberian railway with a trans-Korean one.
For this pragmatic interest, Russia, together with its neighbor China, prioritizes stability on the peninsula more than anything else.
“Moscow tries to gain political leverage through economic cooperation. It has been like this for more than 10 years now. (Putin’s return to the presidency) will strengthen this tendency,” said Chung Eun-sook, a senior fellow of the Sejong Institute.
Experts say the hosting of the 2012 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum will serve as another reason for Russia to seek stability on the Korean peninsula in the short-term as Moscow attempts to use the opportunity to promote projects involving the two Koreas and to raise regional interest.
Russia is to host the forum in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok in September.
Against this backdrop, many believe Moscow will be more active in issuing tough statements and joining the international sanctions on Pyongyang in the case of a nuclear test.
However, some disagree with the view that Putin’s Russia will bring about big changes to the dynamics on the peninsula.
“In regards to the North, Russia wants stability, but it is not willing to invest much in maintaining the status quo,” said Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul.
“I would not expect much difference between Medvedev and Putin. For Russia, Korea is a relatively marginal issue.”
Some mentioned the changes in the situation in Russia compared to Putin’s first two presidential terms.
“The voice of civil society in Russia has been growing for the past 20 years. Putin might not have the support that he used to have in his early terms in pushing for what he believes,” said Chung.
“Oil prices are low compared to those days too. He might have to put priority to challenges coming from inside.”
After being reelected Russian president on March 4, many opposition rallies took place denouncing what they claim was election rigging across the country masterminded by Putin.
A day before Putin’s inauguration day, thousands of people protested against the unfair elections and stepped up pressure on Putin to introduce liberal reforms.
Putin can extend his rule to 2024 by being elected to another six-year term.