In the scramble to put together a cohesive North Korea policy, the U.S. Department of State announced on Monday that Joseph Yun, the U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy, would travel to Moscow to meet with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov.
In the course of Ambassador Yun’s visit to Moscow, the American diplomat reiterated his country‘s commitment to working with international partners, including Russia, to help solve regional tensions surrounding North Korea. At the same time, Yun stated that the installation of American missile defense in Asia was a key step in halting North Korea’s security provocations.
While the security situation on the Korean Peninsula is always tense, Ambassador Yun’s trip to Moscow came during a particularly tumultuous time: North Korea, as well as the U.S. and South Korea, have caused a great deal of angst among the Russian foreign policy establishment.
Russia hopes to use its growing ties with North Korea as a bargaining chip in its dealings with the Trump administration
North Korea has continued to launch missiles into regional waters, while rumors abound that the DPRK may be on the cusp of yet another nuclear test.
South Korea and the United States, conversely, have recently finished their annual Key Resolve military exercise, while taking the initial steps to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. Russia has been outspoken in its opposition to both of these joint ROK-U.S. actions for what it fears could lead to further regional instability.
The U.S. government’s decision to send its top North Korea policy official to Russia rather than China at the outset of the Trump administration has two possible meanings. One is that, as several analysts have speculated, North Korea has begun placing greater importance on its ties with Russia.
As such, in order for the United States to more effectively manage its policy towards a country with which neither it or its regional allies have diplomatic relations, Washington finds it more expedient to develop a rapport with Moscow over North Korean security issues.
Then again, given Donald Trump’s expressions of enmity toward China, the current administration in Washington may simply prefer to work more closely with Russia.
Ambassador Yun’s trip to the Russian capital follows Trump’s proclamation that the U.S. will act unilaterally against North Korea if China doesn’t, in Trump’s view, respond to North Korean provocations in a way that suits U.S. interests. This may be exactly what Moscow has been hoping for. One report suggests that Russia hopes to use its growing ties with North Korea as a bargaining chip in its dealings with the Trump administration.
Indeed, in the raft of allegations of Russian intervention in the 2016 U.S. election, there is little clarity as to what tone Russia-U.S. relations will take under President Trump. Nevertheless, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is also due to visit Moscow in April, a move that has raised eyebrows among members of the U.S. foreign policy elite, as Tillerson’s plan originally meant missing a meeting of NATO foreign ministers.
PRESSURE ON BEIJING
Despite an apparent North Korean tilt toward Russia at China’s expense, China remains the foreign country with the most direct influence on the DPRK. In December 2016 Ambassador Yun postulated that there would be no fundamental shift in the U.S.’s North Korea policy under Trump. This projected continuity may include a maintenance in Russia’s relatively diminished stature in regional negotiations over Korea.
Given Donald Trump’s expressions of enmity toward China, the current administration in Washington may simply prefer to work more closely with Russia
And, it must be said, a greater level of comfort in Washington with working with Moscow instead of Beijing does not necessarily mean that Russia will be a more helpful or effective partner for the U.S. in managing its North Korea policy in a multilateral fashion.
Nor does it mean that China-U.S. cooperation over North Korea is out of the question. Trump’s outspokenness against the PRC has centered around domestic concerns on trade. Russia and the U.S. experienced particularly tense relations under the Obama administration, yet found Korean security to be an area on which the two sides found cooperation more plausible.
The same may happen between China and the U.S., where trade is a major bone of contention, but shared misgivings about the DPRK lead to closer coordination.
In this case, Russia may, or may not, remain in a relatively subordinate position in terms of the importance the U.S. places on its non-ally contacts in handling Northeast Asian security.
So even if the aftermath of Ambassador Yun’s visit includes actionable policy coordination between Russia and the U.S., rather than simple blanket statements of shared Russia-U.S. interest in solving the Korean security question, China will most likely remain the U.S.’s primary contact for handling questions of regional security – and Russia will remain in the backseat.
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 845 words of this article.