Following decades of confrontation between Washington and Pyongyang, it appeared last year that there was a real chance of moving forward. However, two summits between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump have failed to produce any substantive result, and mutual distrust between the two parties remains high. There are many obstacles in the way of normalization of relations between the United States (US) and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) which include different policy narratives of main participants in the dialogue process, obvious divergence between official and real goals of both parties and the bilateral format of dialogue process making decisions difficult to get implemented given the engagement of other powers in the region. No country is actually really interested in the normalization of US-DPRK relations except neutral states like Mongolia.
On his new year’s address, Kim said that he would pursue a ‘new way’ to achieve his strategic objectives which meant that denuclearization talks with the US remain stalled.
On his new year’s address, Kim said that he would pursue a ‘new way’ to achieve his strategic objectives which meant that denuclearization talks with the US remain stalled. The North Korean leader accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invitation for a summit. It was a great chance for Putin to turn his country back into a diplomatic powerhouse on the world stage, and to exploit US’ weaknesses just as he wants. Like other powers in the region, Russia also has interests in the Korean Peninsula. Hence it is competing for an important position in the dialogue process that would ultimately affect the geopolitics of the Peninsula. Similarly, Kim also recognized the divergence of Russia’s interests with the West as an opportunity for Pyongyang, especially after the collapse of talks between Trump and Kim. Hence, in given circumstances, it is an excellent opportunity for Russia to revive its old friendship with DPRK. ‘Engagement in North Korean affairs was the top priority for the Kremlin, which wants to show that Russia is a superpower standing shoulder to shoulder with the US and China,’ a source close to the Russian government said.
Just two months after the failure of the Hanoi Summit, the Kim-Putin meeting allowed both leaders to send a message to Washington. North Korea maintains its proactive position in this whole scenario. Kim Jong’s string of diplomatic moves, that he started last year, has proved to be successful. At first, he used China to pressurize the Trump administration and is now using Russia for the same purpose. It may well be interpreted as Kim’s inaugural diplomatic move to launch his ‘new way’ to pursue the strategic vision that he failed to achieve at the Hanoi summit. ‘It’s not that Kim is some great friend with Russia. It is part of his plan to continue work on diplomacy with everybody else, to put pressure on Washington,’ said Sue Mi Terry, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Also, Kremlin would not like to see the North Korean government replaced by a unified Korean Peninsula aligned with the US. Moscow, just like Beijing, is also suspicious of US’ military installments in South Korea.
Among many things that Russia and DPRK share, one is the aim of resisting any foreign pressure in the broader definition of defending their sovereignties.
Among many things that Russia and DPRK share, one is the aim of resisting any foreign pressure in the broader definition of defending their sovereignties. Kim may find a sympathizer in Putin as Russia itself has been a victim of severe economic sanctions by the West, for many years. Putin also wanted to give Kim a good image of what an alternative to Trump might look like. So as expected, Putin showed his support for a phased denuclearization plan and the easing of international sanctions when the two leaders met. On the other hand, Kim sought Putin’s additional diplomatic support on the nuclear issue as well as the US imposition of sanctions, all the more encouraging Russia to play a more active role in promoting a trilateral meeting between Russia, China and North Korea; which took place at vice-ministerial level in Moscow last October. He also told the Russian leader that he believed that the US acted in ‘bad faith’ at the Hanoi Summit while warning that the situation in the Korean Peninsula has reached a point where it may return to its original state due to a stalemate on the dialogue process. The two leaders also explored ways to enhance their economic relationship.
What the US here needs to realize, instead of just being an onlooker, is the potential role of Russia as an effective mediator between US and North Korea as the latter does not see Russia as a threat and regards it as a country which can be trusted. But this possible role of Russia is currently hampered by US-Russia tensions, on numerous fronts including Russia’s open support of Chinese policy for the Korean Peninsula.
In short, even though Kim and his government actively promote self-sufficiency and a self-sustainable national economy, foreign help and support, materially and diplomatically would always be welcomed in Pyongyang. This Kim-Putin summit rendered North Korea, both substantive as well as a symbolic help.
In short, even though Kim and his government actively promote self-sufficiency and a self-sustainable national economy, foreign help and support, materially and diplomatically would always be welcomed in Pyongyang.
Overall, the Putin-Kim summit and the diplomatic moves taken by major powers on the Korean Peninsula emphasize that the geo-political tectonic plates are still moving in the region despite the collapse of Hanoi Summit as Putin is set to shape the narrative in favor of Russia while avoiding the risks that may follow if the North-South dialogues fail to be fruitful. Putin, it appears, wants to play the role of global power negotiator with North Korea that Trump wanted to play but failed to.
Rabeea Jabbar has studied International Relations from International Islamic University, Islamabad. She is currently working as an intern at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research.