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View more articles by Anthony V. Rinna
Anthony V. Rinna
Anthony V. Rinna is a Senior Editor with the Sino-NK research group. He's lived in South Korea since 2014.
In his first visit to the Russian Federation, the chair of the DPRK’s Supreme People’s Assembly Pak Thae Song met with the chair of the Russian parliament’s lower house Vyacheslav Volodin in Moscow this week.
The meeting occurred on the heels of a rough patch in Moscow-Pyongyang relations, following sweeping arrests of North Korean poachers by Russian law enforcement authorities.
Nevertheless, the recent low point in North Korea-Russia ties hardly seemed to register during this week’s parliamentary summit.
In the Russian capital, the two senior lawmakers exchanged expressions of solidarity as well as concrete proposals for further cooperation between the DPRK and Russia.
Parliamentary exchanges between North Korea and the Russian Federation occur on a regular basis. Among the unique features of this week’s meeting, however, was its function as a follow-up to the summit between Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin last April.
Pak Thae Song declared that the summit between Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin six months ago laid a strong foundation for strategic cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang.
Vyacheslav Volodin noted that the role of North Korean and Russian lawmakers, among other functions, is to lay a legal foundation for cooperation between the two states based on the positive interactions between the two countries’ respective leaders.
A case-in-point of the role DPRK and Russian legislators hope to serve in strengthening bilateral ties is in the area of scientific and technical cooperation.
Park specifically highlighted the imperative to provide a legal foundation for enhanced scientific collaboration, as well as strengthening the functions of the Intergovernmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economics, Science, and Technology.
However, bilateral ties between Moscow and Pyongyang were hardly the only aspect of this week’s summit in the Russian capital.
Volodin highlighted the importance of cooperation between the two states on the global level.
Although bilateral relations tend to be relatively limited to the Northeast Asian regional level, diplomatic agreements between Moscow and Pyongyang contain provisions on promoting their shared interests on a wider international scale, especially global strategic stability.
At the heart of discussions on global policy issues was a shared opposition to the trajectory of U.S. policies, particularly sanctions.
UN sanctions against the DPRK have undermined crucial areas of cooperation between North Korea and Russia, particularly as the deadline for compliance with UN Resolution 2397 looms only months away.
Yet while Russian officials have frequently lambasted UN sanctions against the North, despite Russia having voted in favor of such measures, lawmakers meeting in Moscow this week focused their attention on the overall role that sanctions play in U.S. foreign policy.
North Korea and Russia’s shared experience on the receiving end of American sanctions caused expressions of solidarity between Moscow and Pyongyang, particularly on the North Korean end.
What Pyongyang sees as Moscow’s defiance in the face of the imposition of sanctions against Russia over the 2014 Crimea annexation also proved to be a rallying cry for the DPRK.
In particular, Park Thae Song declared that the DPRK admired what it perceived to be the success of Russian foreign and domestic policies in the face of punitive economic measures laid by Washington.
Park went as far as to say that the North Korean government considered the Kremlin’s defiance in the face of sanctions as a case of celebration for the DPRK.
During the parliamentary gathering, in fact, the two sides insinuated that American sanctions against the DPRK and the Russian Federation were part of Washington’s broader strategy of employing economic measures against its opponents, including China, Iran, and Venezuela.
The connection between U.S. imposed sanctions on various countries highlight a growing sentiment of solidarity between North Korea and Russia in a wider context.
Of course, sanctions are a key tool of U.S. foreign policy applied to a variety of situations.
Washington would certainly consider sanctions imposed over Crimea and North Korea’s weapons programs, as well as the trade war with China, to be entirely separate issues.
Nevertheless, the senior lawmakers who gathered in Moscow this week placed these and other U.S. policies under an umbrella of “economic warfare”.
Volodin opined that Washington’s wide-ranging employment of economic measures against opponents would ultimately be detrimental even to American interests, stating that it would be better for the United States to abide by a policy of commerce and cooperation with other states.
On the security front, the two lawmakers lamented what they termed the U.S.’s double standards. Pak Tae Song asserted that while Washington spoke of dialogue to resolve the Korean security crisis, the continued combat readiness of the ROK and U.S. armed forces, even in spite of recent reductions in joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises, show a lack of good faith.
Moscow meanwhile seems in recent months to be testing the vitality of the ROK-U.S. alliance – a partnership that has itself recently been embattled by disagreement over cost-sharing.
This week, just three months after the Russian air force’s intrusion near the Liancourt Rocks, six Russian jets penetrated the South Korean air defense zone on the ROK’s east coast.
Statements issued during Pak Tae Song’s visit to the Russian Federation this week underscore wider tensions in the trajectory of DPRK-Russia relations in terms of how the two countries’ partnership reverberates across the Northeast Asia sub-region and beyond.
Moscow and Pyongyang growing demonstrably closer at a time of both stalled security dialogue on the Korean peninsula as well as the U.S.’s wide reach across the globe could signal that the DPRK views Russia primarily as an aid to the survival of the North Korean state, rather than as a contributor to reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.
Indeed, one of Russia’s core interests in the Korean security crisis is to be an intermediary between Pyongyang and Seoul. Yet appearing biased toward the DPRK will hardly make this already remote possibility any easier.
At the same time, by reaching out to Russia, the DPRK is not simply shoring up ties with a great power partner, but is potentially mitigating its isolation by sending a message that it stands in solidarity with various states opposed to U.S. policy across the globe.
Edited by James Fretwell and Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Russian Duma