Alexander Galushka, Russian minister for the development of the Russia’s Far East, said Moscow and Pyongyang have reached an agreement to discuss the creation of advanced development zones in Russia’s Far East and North Korea.
With South Korea’s participation, the project to be discussed between Russia and North Korea is trilateral. As reported by Voice of America, in an email sent to the VOA Korean news service, Galushka said Russia and North Korea agreed to “discuss the creation of advanced development zones in the Russian Far East and on the territory of the DPRK with the participation of the Russian Federation, the DPRK and South Korea.”
Both parties agreed on the project during a February visit by a North Korean economic delegation to Moscow. The North Korean delegation was led by Ri Ryong Nam, Pyongyang’s Minister for Foreign Economic Affairs. Both Ri and Galushka called for strengthening of economic ties between Moscow and Pyongyang.
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The project comes as Russia recently announced that the leader of North Korea Kim Jong Un is among 26 world leaders who have agreed to take part in the annual World War Two Victory Day celebration in May.
It would be Kim’s first foreign trip since taking over as supreme leader of the scandalous and isolated country from his father, Kim Jong Il, who last visited Russia in 2011, just a few months before he died.
Some Western leaders have declined the Kremlin’s invitations to the military parade because of Russia’s involvement in the Ukrainian conflict. However, the Kremlin announced that some European leaders were still expected to come, including those from Greece, Norway, Slovakia, and several Balkan nations.
The Prospects of the Relationship between Russia and North Korea
In November, Russia and North Korea expanded a joint Khasan-Rajin project to upgrade the DPRK’s railways which would become a model for future bilateral economic joint projects. The project named “Victory,” upgrades the railway between Jaedong, South Pyongan province, and the port city of Nampo.
When asked about Russian investors for the railway project, Galushka said, “As this is a large project, new participants will be required. However, this is the prerogative of the business to attract new members.”
Putin said late last year that closer ties between both countries would help “ensure regional stability and security.” Russia is also planning joint military exercises with North Korea to take place in 2015.
In turn, North Korea named 2015 the year of North Korean-Russian friendship, with goals to increase trading to $1 billion a year. The North Korean state news agency said the initiative “was caused by their joint bid to achieve a higher level in political, economic and cultural relations.”
North Korea is expected to gain financially and militarily from closer relations with Russia. In 2014 Moscow cancelled almost US $10 billion, or 90%, of North Korea’s bilateral debt and said it would invest the remaining $1.09bn – to be paid back over 20 years – in North Korea’s infrastructure projects such as a cross-border gas pipeline between Russia and the North, and a rail link to South Korea.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was a major exporter of foreign aid to North Korea. Most of North Korea’s current military equipment comes from the former Soviet Union, and only a small part of it is from Korean War from 1950 to 1952.
After the collapse of the USSR, the two isolated countries have drifted apart. According to the CNN report, the trade between Russia and North Korea was just $100 million in 2013, which is ridiculous in comparison to trade with China at about $6 billion.
Putin Says ‘Screw you’ to West?
Alexander Matsegora, Russia’s ambassador to North Korea, said that Putin and Kim Jong Un are in frequent contact. “An active political dialogue is maintained at the highest and high level,” he told Russian news agency TASS. “The leaders of the two countries regularly exchange messages.”
Why is this happening? What is the cause of the recent heart-warming ‘contact’ between Putin and Kim? North Korea expert Nicholas Eberstadt explained it as Putin’s “screw you” policy, according to Fox 17 News. “Spite is an underestimated quality in international relations. Russia stood to gain basically nothing from playing the Kim Jong Un card. It was sort of a ‘screw you’ policy.”
This “screw you” policy has been developing since last year, when Russia jumped into bed with North Korea after the West increased their military presence in Russia’s neighboring states as a response to the Russian move to annex Crimea.
A year after the annexation, Putin admitted in an interview aired on Sunday that he indeed ordered the Russian soldiers to execute a well-planned operation to take over Crimea. Furthermore, Putin admitted in the interview that “we were ready to do this” when asked about his willingness to ready Russia’s nuclear forces.
The US has sought to isolate North Korea for its nuclear weapons program and other policies that don’t correspond with American Interests in the region. Western leaders have supported the US in this matter and imposed sanctions against the regime in an attempt to pressure Kim Jong Un and North Korea to give up its nuclear program. Let’s face it: that hasn’t really helped so far.
And now Russia’s invitation seems like a direct rejection of that Western policy. Why does Putin do it? What’s the point? If this is his way of showing his disrespect to the West, or his attempt to annoy and worry Western world, then he has succeeded. However, on purpose or not, he has also made friends with Kim Jong Un, who will never leave Russia’s side. Putin and Kim are doomed to be together until the end.