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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
North Korean and Russian energy officials held talks in Pyongyang on Friday to address ways Russia can help improve the North’s energy grid, the country’s embassy reported on Monday.
Leading a delegation to Pyongyang for the 4th meeting of the Russia-DPRK joint working group on cooperation in the field of electric power industry was Russian Ministry of Energy deputy minister Anton Inyutsyn.
North Korean Ministry of Electric Power Industry deputy minister Ju Yong — previously known as director of the ministry’s Hydroelectricity Administration Department — led the talks for the North, the embassy said, with the two signing a protocol at their conclusion.
The two agreed to continue cooperation in three areas which would see Russia provide a great deal of assistance to improve the North’s electricity production capacity, building on similar agreements in recent years and even stretching back decades.
One area is in “the field of exchange of experience and training of specialists for the design, construction, and operation of a 500 kV energy grid.”
This may be referring to an iteration of a project from the early 2000s which sought to build a 380km-long, 500kV 50hz AC transmission line from Vladivostok in the Russian Far East to Chongjin on the North Korean northeast coast.
Russian companies will also seek to “supply equipment and materials necessary for the repair and reconstruction of existing HPPs (hydroelectric power plants) and TPPs (thermal power plants),” according to the Russian embassy.
Work on these matters is being conducted strictly in accordance with UN Security Council (UNSC) sanctions on North Korea, it added.
Such joint work on the North’s power grid could be granted exemptions from sanctions on Russian financial assistance or operating joint ventures on the grounds of it being a public utility infrastructure projects which “directly address[es] the needs of the civilian population,” though these would have to be approved on a case-by-case basis by a UNSC committee.
The meetings in recent days come four years after Inyutsyn signed a previous iteration of the agreement on cooperation in the field of electric power, in meetings which also took place in the North Korean capital.
That December 2015 visit saw Inyutsyn — as well as engineers, technical experts, and representatives of leading Russian energy firms, electricity distribution companies, and design institutes — agree over similar items as this week’s talks, according to another report from the Russian embassy at the time.
The two sides “agreed to promote further energy cooperation is various spheres, including Russian electricity supplying to DPRK, building and reconstructing energy and infrastructure facilities in Korea, as well as training Korean energy specialists,” it said.
Engineers and technical experts as part of the trip visited the Namgang power stations, the East Pyongyang Thermal Power Station, and the Kumyagang Power Station No. 2, a post on the embassy’s official website stated.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un notably said in a visit to the Kumyagang Power Station in May this year that while ongoing construction work at the site was going well, many of the country’s hydropower stations were failing to produce adequate electricity.
The Russian side noted in their report of the 2015 meetings that their Korean partners were transparent with information sharing and eager to begin cooperation.
Both sides have continued to keep up the information sharing in the energy sector despite apparent long delays in major joint projects, with members of Russia’s consulate in Chongjin in one example specifically requesting a visit to the Orangchon Power Station last month.
The consulate said in a Facebook post that the large Phalhyang Dam of the Orangchon Power Station had been completed in October, while the dam — but not the power station — was eventually officially opened last week by some of Kim Jong Un’s top deputies.
A North Korean delegation also visited a power plant in Vladivostok and held workshops with local experts this past July, expressing interest in learning from the experience of Russian companies in converting from coal to natural gas-fired boilers.
In October 2018, too, Ministry of Electric Power chief Kim Man Su led a delegation to Russia to attend the 2nd “Russian week of electric power.”
As part of the talks in Pyongyang this week, Russian delegation members may have also again been taken to various North Korean power stations and related facilities, though details over whether Inyutsyn was also accompanied this time by company representatives and technical experts have yet to be released.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Facebook of the Russian embassy in Pyongyang