President Moon Jae-in and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed various issues including North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles and cooperation for the development of the Russian Far East.
In their summit meeting in Vladivostok on Wednesday, the two leaders shared the view that the North’s nuclear and missile development was an unacceptable mistaken course of action and that it was urgent to ease tension on the Korean Peninsula.
They also agreed to strengthen strategic communication between the two countries to solve the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
Putin opposed the recognition of the North as a nuclear-armed state and strongly warned it over its sixth nuclear bomb test in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
But Moon and Putin showed widely different views about how to deal with North Korea.
Putin agreed that the UN should lead sanctions, but said, “The international community should not become carried away by emotions and drive the North into a blind alley. It should stay calm and avoid taking measures which may raise tension.”
Crisis on the peninsula will not be defused by sanctions and pressure alone, he said.
With the remarks, the Russian leader effectively rejected Moon’s demands that Moscow ban crude oil supply to the North and imports of North Korean labor, which serves as an important source of funds for the Kim Jong-un regime of the North.
Instead, Putin reiterated the existing position that calls for dialogue.
Dialogue with the North does not hold water in the current raised crisis caused by launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles, a test explosion of what the North claimed to be a hydrogen bomb and threats to mount further provocations.
In view of his negative view on sanctions, the additional UN sanctions the US and its allies seek will not likely become as strong as they want.
In fact, differences between Korean and Russian leaders over how to deal with North Korea were expected to some extent.
Like China, Russia has opposed the deployment of the US’ Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system in South Korea and wants to maintain the status quo on the peninsula.
Russia is every bit as important as China in the current phase, in which the US and South Korea are trying to punish the North hard for its latest nuclear test. They are both permanent members of the UN Security Council.
If North Korea is recognized as a state armed with nuclear weapons, South Korea and Japan are likely to seek to possess nukes in response.
This may be the last scenario Russia wants for Northeast Asia.
If Russia leaves the North to do as it likes for fear of the possible deterioration of their relationship, it may fall into bigger trouble in a nuclear domino effect.
Putin is at a watershed moment where he will have to modify his North Korea strategy and go with the international community.
Step by step, one goes a long way.
The government must expand its channels of communication with Russia steadily and concentrate its diplomatic resources on persuading Russia to follow the crowd.
Development of the Far East is a long-cherished goal of Russia.
Moon showed commitment to the tripartite cooperation of the South and North Koreas and Russia, and Putin strongly supported it.
Cooperation is most likely to happen on the economic front first. Economic projects with Russia are important, but now it is a burning issue to persuade the country to move in line with the international community in sanctioning the North.
The relationship between Pyongyang and Moscow is deemed weaker than the blood alliance between Pyongyang and Beijing.
Seoul needs to pull Russia away from the North and China by getting its sincere intention across and getting involved in the development of the Far East and other economic projects.
Now that a North Korea’s nuclear threats hang over the South, Seoul should pursue diplomatic and security policies to open up a new horizon.
One of the first steps to take will be to strengthen communications and economic cooperation with Russia.