Has the US-led pressure campaign against Pyongyang failed?

Posted on : 2023-09-08 16:53 KST Modified on : 2023-09-08 16:53 KST
Seoul’s eagerness to join Washington and Tokyo’s security strategy aimed at containing China appears to have backfired
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un stands for a photo with Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of a summit in Vladivostok, Russia, on April 29, 2019. (KCNA/Yonhap)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un stands for a photo with Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of a summit in Vladivostok, Russia, on April 29, 2019. (KCNA/Yonhap)

With a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin all but confirmed, critics point out that the two’s closening ties could hamstring the Yoon Suk-yeol administration’s strategy of increasing pressure on Pyongyang.

Although the Yoon administration eagerly joined in on Washington and Tokyo’s security strategy aimed at containing China, the move seems to have backfired, prompting North Korea and Russia to grow closer and even discuss arms deals.

During a National Assembly Intelligence Committee meeting on Thursday, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service estimated that a summit between the leaders of North Korea and Russia is likely to take place in Vladivostok during the Eastern Economic Forum from Sept. 10 to 13. Citing Russian government sources, Japan’s NHK also reported that prospective locations for the summit include Far Eastern Federal University, located on an island off the coast of Vladivostok.

Foreign news outlets predicted weapons, food and energy as top items on the summit agenda. In return for receiving artillery shells, which the country is running short on due to its prolonged war in Ukraine, Moscow is expected to negotiate providing Pyongyang with technology for nuclear weapons, missiles and satellites, as well as food and energy supplies, both in short supply in North Korea.

Regarding the possibility of a North Korea-Russia summit, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov remarked on Thursday, “We have our own relations with Pyongyang. We value these relations as North Korea is our neighbor, and we will of course continue to develop relations with them regardless of the opinion of other countries.”

NHK further reported that topics in the summit will likely include the North’s possible supply of weapons to Russia as Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine continues. The outlet’s sources said a visit by the two leaders to military facilities in the region is being considered.

In July, Kim visited a weapons exhibition with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who was visiting North Korea to attend the country’s “Victory Day” celebration marking the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Korean War armistice.

North Korea’s state-run Rodong Sinmun reported on Sept. 6 that leader Kim Jong-un had spent Sept. 3-5 giving on-site instruction at key munitions plants. (KCNA/Yonhap)
North Korea’s state-run Rodong Sinmun reported on Sept. 6 that leader Kim Jong-un had spent Sept. 3-5 giving on-site instruction at key munitions plants. (KCNA/Yonhap)

If, as expected, an agreement is reached at the North Korea-Russia summit concerning weapons, food and energy, it will inevitably stymie efforts to put the screws on North Korea — a strategy that the Yoon administration has been advocating to the international community. While attending a summit with ASEAN bloc countries and an ASEAN Plus Three (South Korea-China-Japan) summit in Indonesia on Wednesday, Yoon took aim at Russia, stating, “Attempts at military cooperation with North Korea that harm international peace must immediately halt.”

However, if the two neighbors of North Korea and Russia begin bartering arms, food and energy, Yoon’s argument for increased pressure on North Korea will become moot.

For several months, experts had already been pointing out that expanding security cooperation among South Korea, the US and Japan may bolster relations among North Korea, China and Russia.

“It’s likely that the West’s economic sanctions against North Korea and Russia will become meaningless,” said Wi Sung-rak, who formerly served as South Korean ambassador to Russia. “If that happens, I’m concerned that South Korea, the US and Japan will apply stronger sanctions, prompting responses from China and Russia in turn.”

Jeh Sung-hoon, a professor of Russian studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, commented, “Russia and North Korea — the two countries the US wants to isolate — are joining forces,” adding, “The chances that Russia will join in on pressuring North Korea have become zero.”

By Shin Hyeong-cheol, staff reporter; Kim So-youn, Tokyo correspondent

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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