Russian energy minister Alexander Novak on Wednesday said Russia is considering supplying North Korea with electricity, as part of a program that would also see exports to Japan and South Korea.
Novak made the announcement at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, an event held every year which encourages investment in the region.
“We supply electricity to the People’s Republic of China, we supply it to Mongolia, we are considering supplying it to Japan, to North Korea, to South Korea,” Novak told Russian broadcaster NVT.
The plan is reminiscent of a similar push from Russian energy provider called RAO Energy Systems of the East which conducted feasibility studies on providing the DPRK with electricity in 2015.
RAO is a subsidiary of the state-0wned RusHydro and while the initial announcements seemed hopeful, deteriorating relations between the two Koreas eventually derailed the project’s momentum.
Also at the forum in Vladivostok, Russian gas giant Gazprom announced it was continuing to investigate the long-gestating inter-Korean gas pipeline project.
“We are in contact with our South Korean and North Korean colleagues,” Gazprom Deputy CEO Alexander Medvedev said on Monday in comments carried by Reuters.
“We are preparing to enter a very important stage… in this case, it is preferable to call this the phase of investment substantiation.”
On paper, the gas pipeline would be a natural fit for the world’s largest natural gas producer and energy-hungry South Korea, which must import around 98 percent of the energy it requires.
But the inclusion of North Korea in the project has the potential to throw a wild card into the sensitive business of energy security, while potential pitfalls exist at every stage.
“It is not conceivable any meaningful progress (could be made without settling the denuclearization issue), except the repeat of feasibility studies on the project Gazprom and Korea Gas Corp (Kogas),” Paik Keun-wook, Associate Fellow, Energy, Environment, and Resources at Chatham House, told NK Pro in July.
Aside from the shadow of international sanctions, the proposed pipeline would also require North Korea’s cooperation in areas where it may lack necessary experience and expertise.
“The parties will need to agree on a price (or price-setting mechanism) for gas, and on what ‘rents’, in the form of money and/or gas withdrawals, the DPRK will extract for hosting the pipeline in its region,” David Von Hippel, a senior research associate at the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability studies said.
“The parties will have to agree on how and where the pipeline will be built, who will build it, and how the flows will be controlled.”