Russia’s increasingly warm foreign policy toward North Korea has garnered increased media attention recently.
The basic question many analysts and journalists have been asking regarding the immediate future of North Korea-Russia ties is to what extent Russia will replace China as North Korea’s main international partner.
Russia has appeared to be gaining in its relations with North Korea as the DPRK’s ties to China have experienced a decline. China, which has been North Korea’s most stable partner since the end of the Cold War, has grown increasingly intolerant of North Korea’s security provocations.
Russia will also likely be reluctant to do anything that could significantly alter the tempo of their budding partnership
Yet even as DPRK-Russia ties enjoy something of an uptick, two of North Korea’s actions within the past month have wracked Russia’s nerves. Specifically, two of North Korea’s most recent missile tests have produced results that demonstrate Russian vulnerability to North Korea’s missile program.
Even as North Korea and Russia have understood the need for communication on the prevention of dangerous military activities, North Korea has demonstrated a degree of negligence over Russian security concerns.
In April, North Korea test-launched a missile, yet in this case, the missile’s trajectory was directed at Russia, and when North Korean missile operators realized the mistake they exploded the missile in mid-air. While the North Korean projectile didn’t hit Russian territory, it nevertheless prompted Russian commanders to place military forces in the Russian Far East on high alert.
The second test, which occurred on Sunday, May 14 ended with the missile successfully crash-landing. Nevertheless, the missile landed approximately sixty miles outside of the Russian city of Vladivostok, at least according to PACOM – Russia’s Ministry of Defense disputes this claim. Russian government spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Vladimir Putin, who is currently in Beijing, has discussed the Korean Peninsula with his Chinese counterpart.
North Korea’s continued missile tests, which have now began to, proverbially speaking, brush up against Russia, could possibly lead to Russian curtailment of its support for the DPRK. Yet while Moscow scaling back its developing partnership with Pyongyang may seem like a logical consequence, the likelihood of this happening is not as great as one may expect.
Russia’s Far Eastern regions, in particular, are sensitive to the prospect of conflict on the Korean Peninsula
KEEPING UP APPEARANCES
The first reason why a Russian crackdown in its ties with North Korea is not very likely is because it counters Russia’s longstanding position that a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the problem of Korean security is necessary.
Russia’s Far Eastern regions, in particular, are sensitive to the prospect of conflict on the Korean Peninsula. In much the same way that China has been reluctant to do everything in its power to change North Korea’s behavior, Russia will also likely be reluctant to do anything that could significantly alter the tempo of their budding partnership.
Stemming from Russia’s aversion to instability on the peninsula, if Russia takes a tougher stance on North Korea, then this could constitute a diplomatic coup for the United States: one of the mainstays of Russia’s policy toward North Korea is opposition to what it sees as an aggressive and irresponsible United States.
Russia believes that U.S. policy toward the Korean Peninsula risks provoking conflict, and tries to portray itself as seeking a peaceful and non-violent resolution through diplomacy. If, however, Russia appears to take a tougher stance against North Korea, it could send a signal that Russia has come to see more eye-to-eye with the United States.
When considered along with the fact that Russia is not the prime target of North Korean security provocations, Russia may continue to be relatively tolerant of the DPRK’s behavior. Nevertheless, even if Russia does not shift its North Korea policy to a significant degree, the most recent missile incidents demonstrate Russia’s vulnerability toward North Korea.
The question remaining is, if North Korea continues to take action that could threaten or harm Russian security, how far Russia is willing to go in its tolerance for North Korea? Time will tell.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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Featured Image: Kremlin by harry.popoff on 2008-09-21 18:47:12