The term “Korean knot” is frequently used in Russian media discourse to describe the complex, multilateral political dealings over North Korea that define the issue.
The phrase is particularly apt for Russia, a country that struggles to maneuver through a complex regional framework in order to assert both its great power as well as regional geopolitical interests.
In the midst of Trump’s series of state visits across East Asia, the Kremlin confirmed that Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump were due to meet on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam on Saturday.
Nevertheless, the interaction between the Russian and American heads of state amounted to little more than a photo-op and handshake, as well as a few words exchanged.
LOTS TO TALK ABOUT…
The reason given by their respective governments for Putin and Trump not having a proper sideline chat was scheduling conflicts.
And even before White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders announced that a Putin-Trump meeting would not take place, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared that the two leaders may not have anything of substance to discuss in Vietnam.
A meeting with Donald Trump that dovetailed with Trump’s Asia tour would likely have been a benefit for Russia in its attempts to maneuver through the twists of the “Korean knot.”
Specifically, for Vladimir Putin to have a meeting with Donald Trump hot on the heels of the latter’s state visits across East Asia would have provided an excellent opportunity for Moscow to subtly but unmistakably assert itself as an Asian player.
An encounter between the two presidents, however, would not likely have produced any substantial developments in Russia-U.S. cooperation over North Korea.
Trump’s visits to Beijing, Seoul, and Tokyo focused by-and-large on two major issues: North Korea and trade. Russia-U.S. relations, however are not defined by commerce or the relatively limited scope of Northeast Asian regional affairs.
Russia has enjoyed an increasingly strong position in multilateral discussions over North Korea
Rather, the biggest regional issues for Moscow-Washington bilateral relations are found in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and these are, more often than not, issues of contention rather than accord.
…BUT NOT MUCH TO AGREE ON
Indeed, ahead of the APEC summit, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov lamented that there is virtually no cooperation between Moscow and Washington over North Korea, but only exchanges of opinion.
Over the course of 2017, Russia has enjoyed an increasingly strong position in multilateral discussions over North Korea.
In April, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean affairs, Ambassador Joseph Yun, visited Moscow for talks, indicating that the current administration in Washington valued Russia as a participant in discussions over North Korea.
Of course, Russia’s own position and influence regarding North Korea remains diminutive compared to China’s.
Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, recently described Russia as a “third tier” body that could play a constructive role in the event of Pyongyang-Washington dialogue.
Trenin highlighted Russia’s continued position as a secondary power relative to China as far as regional negotiations over North Korea were concerned, but noted the continued personal connection between the Kremlin and Pyongyang.
President Trump, however, has called for increased pressure from the Russian Federation on North Korea, although he acknowledges that Russia does not work in a vacuum.
In fact, Trump has stated that one of the ways to obtain Russia’s help in solving the North Korea crisis is by getting China to support U.S. efforts and initiatives.
In response to President Trump’s petition for greater Russian pressure on the DPRK, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov stated that the Russian Federation would not honor Trump’s request. Rather, Lavrov called for “cool heads” and a “peaceful” solution to the North Korean crisis.
Rex Tillerson declared that the two leaders may not have anything of substance to discuss in Vietnam
Lavrov’s statements betray a major difference in Russian and American thinking over what constitutes a “peaceful” solution to the North Korean crisis.
So often the two ends of the spectrum on how best to solve the North Korea quandary appear to be between a military solution and a diplomatic one.
Yet despite some concerns over an increasing beating of the war drum in Washington, the U.S. remains committed to a non-violent solution to solving the problems North Korea poses.
Even as Moscow slams the United States as a regional provocateur, some prominent Russian experts on Korea, such as Georgy Toloraya, dismiss fears that the U.S. is planning military action as hype.
At the root of the problem regarding Moscow and Washington’s respective policies toward North Korea is a lack of agreement over what constitutes a “peaceful” solution to the DPRK’s security provocations.
For the U.S., it essentially boils down to a choice between economic pressure and military action. Russia, however, views stringent economic measures against the North as a recipe for initiating the collapse of the Kim regime in Pyongyang, which would, in Russia’s estimation, lead to widespread social instability – to say nothing of the potential economic reverberations across Northeast Asia.
From this point on, the biggest task for Russia and the U.S. will be to come to an understanding on what exactly constitutes a “peaceful” solution to the North Korea crisis. For Moscow and Washington, there is one preferred way of managing the deadlock over North Korea, but divergent ways of getting there.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Kremlin.ru
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 939 words of this article.