My last Dragon Eye column summarized a significant analysis by two Chinese experts that have each spent significant time in Pyongyang. I noted their interesting conclusion that they considered Russia to be a “rising star [后起之秀]” with respect to affairs on the Korean Peninsula. They assessed in their conclusion that Russia-China cooperation on the North Korea issue could be a “decisive factor.” That may seem paradoxical given that, if one studies the history of Pyongyang’s nuclear program, its origins derive from the period of initial confrontation between Russia and China, and their respective competition for the allegiance of the various Communist states in East Asia as their rivalry heated up in the 1960s.
While Americans are, naturally enough, wary of Russia-China cooperation in any context, these Chinese analysts could actually have a point. After all, one interpretation of events on the Korean Peninsula over the last thirty years is that the current precarious state of affairs is due largely to an unsustainable imbalance in power. How could North Korea possibly stand against the combined power of both South Korea and the United States, with mighty Japan standing just behind them? In this conception, the “original sin” was the collapse of the USSR and the failure of both Moscow and Beijing to adequately support their faltering ally. Confronted with the all too real possibility of complete demise, the Kims uncorked the nuclear genie, logically enough. Taking the advice of Chinese colleagues to consider Russia’s role in the Korean situation seriously, this Bear Cave examines a few relevant Russian-language analyses that were likely missed by Western experts.
A rather scorching analysis appeared in the Russian newspaper Kommersant [Коммерсантъ] by the journalist Mikhail Korostikov on December 28. He declares in his first sentence that “Last year became the year of the triumph of North Korean diplomacy [Прошедший год стал годом триумфа северокорейской дипломатии].” At the beginning of last year, he explains that North Korea faced the dark, but real prospect of war and could not have been cheered to see that China and Russia both had “essentially joined with the Western coalition [фактически присоединились к западной коалиции]” to undertake draconian economic sanctions against Pyongyang. Yet, entering 2019, we are in a rather different place, thanks to Kim Jong-un’s “opening himself up to the world in an unprecedented way and executing a series of brilliant diplomatic maneuvers [беспрецедентно открылся миру и выполнил ряд блестящих дипломатических маневров].”
This Russian journalist reports with more than a hint of sarcasm on Kim’s pledge in Singapore to disarm “at some point [когда-нибудь].” Likewise,