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Russia and the Koreas: Past Policies and Future Possibilities
Published February 25, 2010
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Geography alone would give Russia a prominent role in the Korean peninsula. The Russian Federation currently shares a recently demarcated 17-kilometer common border along the Tumen River with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The proximity is suffi cient to ensure that Russian leaders closely follow events in the Koreas and try to infl uence developments. In addition, the histories of the Russian and Korean nations have intertwined for centuries. The Soviet Union created North Korea and imparted the new state with its horrifi c Stalinist political-economic model. Although Russian-DPRK relations have atrophied since the USSR’s demise, ties between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Korea (ROK) have improved considerably in recent years.
Russia pursues a variety of goals with respect to the Koreas. In the economic realm, Russian entrepreneurs envisage revitalizing ties with the DPRK by converting it into a transit country for Russian energy and economic exports to South Korea and other countries in the AsiaPacifi c region. Among other benefi ts, the resulting commercial surge would help integrate Russia further into the prosperous East Asian region and promote the economic recovery of the Russian Far East, which lags behind western Russia economically and is becoming a security liability owing to the demographic collapse of the ethnic Russian population in the Russia-China border regions.
In the area of security, Russian policymakers are eager to normalize the security situation on the Korean peninsula in order to realize their economic ambitions there. Specifi c Russian goals include ending the DPRK nuclear weapons and missile programs, averting the abrupt collapse of the DPRK regime or a nuclear or ballistic missile proliferation wave in East Asia, and keeping Moscow a major regional security actor. Common Russian tactics or precepts to pursue such ends include inducing North Korea to end its disruptive nuclear and missile programs voluntarily through economic assistance and security assurances, maintaining a prominent role for Russian diplomacy through joint declarations and other means, promoting dialogue rather than punishment and keeping any needed sanctions limited, and encouraging all parties to adhere to their commitments.

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