February 24, 2024

Cooperation with Russia: What North Korea expects

Despite increasing talks, uncertainties stand in way of Moscow-Pyongyang partnerships

After a pause of 25 years, both Russia – in a state of semi-Cold War with the West – and North Korea – a long-time foe of the West, now at odds with China – have turned to one another again. At least verbally, negotiations on economic cooperation between Russia and North Korea have seemingly reached the same level as after the remarkable Kim Il Sung visit to the USSR in 1984. The previous upsurge bore some fruit: new “compensation,” procession-on-commission projects (when Russia supplied equipment and raw materials, getting the ready-made goods as compensation), re-orientation of North Korean exports towards the USSR, feasibility studies for nuclear power plants and other grand-scale projects.

It was short-lived, however. Increasing difficulties for the Soviet economy put a cap on cooperation after trade (including economic assistance) peaked in 1987, and after this trade and investment fell almost to zero in the 1990s. The short period between 2000-2002 saw some revival of commerce as a result of the political rapprochement but the liberal-minded Russian economic establishment came close to sabotaging politically motivated arrangements, reluctant to deal with the “doomed regime” and waste money on aid to it. Negotiations on debt repayment, started immediately after meetings between Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Il in 2000-2001, dragged on for a decade.