Russian President Vladimir Putin has reached out to one of the poorest and least predictable states on earth: North Korea. So far, the new Moscow-Pyongyang axis matters little. But the effort demonstrates that Russia can make Washington pay for confronting Moscow over Ukraine.
The United States and the Soviet Union divided the Korean peninsula at the end of World War II. Moscow’s zone became the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, better known as North Korea, while the U.S. zone became the Republic of Korea, better known as South Korea. But North Korea denounced Moscow in 1991 after it recognized South Korea. Since then, Russo-North Korean relations have been minimal.
In contrast, Seoul provided investment and trade in abundance. After President Vladimir Putin held a summit with South Korean President Park, Russia leaned toward Seoul in denouncing the North’s missile and nuclear programs.
However, Moscow is rebalancing its position. Last year North Korea and Russia exchanged high-level visitors and inked a number of economic agreements. Russia indicated its willingness to host a summit. Both governments talked of “deepening” economic and political ties.
Although Russia’s North Korea initiatives are new, the interests being promoting are old: regional stability, denuclearization, improved transportation links, expanded commercial and energy activities, and enhanced diplomatic clout.