Russia, one of the four important players in Korea, is focused on Korea due to its “turn to the East” policy. It is increasingly less interested in a momentous Korean unification under the ROK’s guidance which would result in a sudden shift of balance of power in the region. The nuclear issue is also less urgent now, while the goals of stability and peaceful dialogue, cooperation, and eventual reconciliation between the two Koreas are at the forefront.
A collapse of the DPRK, not impossible in principle, is not imminent. Pressure and isolation do not bring it any closer. The stand-off between the U.S. and Russia and the rivalry between the U.S. and China make it doubtful that the DPRK can be brought down peacefully in a “soft landing” scenario. The alternative is “conventionalizing” North Korea through evolutional internal reforms—impossible in the absence of security guarantees. The resilience of the North Korean regime may prompt Seoul and Washington to take into consideration the interests of the Northern ruling class.
Russia can help implement such a policy in cooperation with the ROK and U.S. Recently, Russia-North Korean relations warmed up and many new economic projects are being discussed. Most important are the trilateral economic projects involving South Korea, such as railroads, which North Korea supports.
The first step might be for South Korea to lift sanctions and increase engagement efforts. Denuclearization of North Korea is possible only in the distant future and should not be a stumbling block for dialogue. Such a dialogue (including a multilateral one) should guarantee a freeze on the North Korean nuclear program and step-by-step dismantling of it, hedging against the risk of change in strategic balance and proliferation.
Key Words: Russian policy in Korea; Korean unification; North Korea; nuclear problem; trilateral projects