Dr. Alexander Zhebin,

Director of the Center for Korean Studies (CKS) of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies (IFES) of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow

Global Peace Convention
Manila, Philippines, February 28-March 3, 2017

I. Introduction
History proved that any serious aggravation of the situation, the more so armed conflicts on the Korean peninsula always jeopardized Russia’s security, compelling her to undertake additional measures to strengthen the country’s defense capabilities in the region. Several times Russia had to use her armed forces in Korea to protect her interests against non-continental adversaries as it happened in 1904-1905, 1945 and finally, though on a very limited scale, in 1950-1953.

That’s why Russia is vitally interested in maintenance of peace and stability in Korea. The promotion of a good-neighborhood and mutually advantageous cooperation with the regional states in Northeast Asia is getting ever more important in view of Russia’s policy “Turning to the East” and cooling relations between Russia and the West because of the events in the Ukraine.

This paper explains reasons for Russia’s consistent support for any steps aimed at promoting the process of reconciliation, rapprochement, and cooperation in Korea. It also provides with some outlines of Moscow’s vision of a reunited Korea and her place in any future security architecture in the region which should be acceptable for all major parties concerned.

2. Reunification of Korea and Russia’s Interests

Russia generally welcomed all moves by two Korean states aimed at relaxation of tension and promoting inter-Korean cooperation because of two major considerations: Moscow hopes that the inter-Korean reconciliation, firstly, will remove a threat of military conflict right next to her Eastern border, and secondly, promote more favorable environment for both development of Russia’s bilateral economic ties with two Korean states as well as for implementation of multilateral economic projects with Russia’s participation in Northeast Asia. There are expectations that in the long run a reunified Korea will be a country capable to maintain relations of friendship, good neighborhood, and cooperation with Russia.

But there should be no doubt that Russia’s priority interest concerning realization of any reunification scenario remains maintenance of peace and stability on the peninsula. It is also important for Moscow to ensure the most possible predictability of final results of the reunification process. High degree of uncertainty concerning character of foreign policy of the reunified Korea, its participation in the military-political alliances with other states and orientations of such alliances compels Russia, as well as other powers, while welcoming inter-Korean détente, to take more cautious position toward prospects of reunification.

One can hardly expect Russia (and China, too) to welcome as a new neighbor a state with 75-million population which is under prevailing influence of the U.S.A. and the more so with the U.S. troops on its territory. It would be equivalent to emergence near our eastern borders of an Asian clone of the NATO. The possibility is especially unwelcome in view of the NATO expansion to the East in Europe.

Some prominent Russian experts consider that the continuing U.S. troops’ stationing in South Korea is anachronism of the “Cold War” period. They believe it is necessary to put an end to a foreign military presence in Korea after her possible reunification since it can be directed only against Russia (and her strategic partner – China). Moscow also keeps in mind that the U.S. troops on the Korean peninsula will be protected by THAAD Missile Defense system which is to be deployed by the U.S.A. in South Korea.

Generally speaking, since the middle of the 19thcentury the real task for Russia’s foreign policy has been not to get prevailing positions on the Korean peninsula, but to prevent such a situation when Korea would be placed under influence of another, especially unfriendly to Russia, power.

Since under present balance of forces in Northeast Asia one could not exclude development of events according to such a scenario completely, existence of the DPRK as the friendly sovereign state which is carrying out a role of a certain buffer for geopolitical ambitions of the U.S.A. in the region is favorable to Moscow (and Beijing, too) in a short and mid-term perspective.

In view of the factors specified above, the DPRK’s unification formula which calls for creation of a neutral non-aligned state on the peninsula looks, from the point of view of Russia’s security interests, more attractive, than South Korean commitment to the American military presence even after reunification of Korea.

Russia’s firm conviction is that there is no alternative to the inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation. Moscow never failed to confirm that “Russia supports the policy of developing dialogue between the two Korean states and bringing them closer together” and that “Russia has always aspired to, and today expresses its unequivocal support for, a dialogue and rapprochement of the Korean states and maintaining a denuclearized Korean peninsula.”

Normalization of situation on the Korean peninsula completely suits Russia’s national interests because tension arising from time to time between Pyongyang and Seoul blocks realization of multilateral economic projects, like oil and gas pipelines, linking the Russian Trans-Siberian Mainline with the Trans-Korean railways. Russia believes that cooperation in a tripartite format, between Russia, the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, in the energy and transportation sectors can be a very important part of expanding bilateral cooperation between Moscow and Seoul. This is consistent Russia’s position since Mr. Putin’s first presidential term.

Better relations between the DPRK and the ROK, along with providing with more favorable conditions for development of trade and economic cooperation between Russia and both parts of Korea, undoubtedly, would open new opportunities for economic development of the Russian Far East and for linking its economy to integration processes in the Asia-Pacific region.
Besides being economically advantageous, such interaction is highly likely to contribute to the confidence-building between South and North Korea. Russia believes that such cooperation “will not only be economically advantageous, but will also increase trust on the Korean peninsula.”

President V. Putin re-confirmed this stance in his interview with KBS given before his official visit to the ROK in November 2013. “We definitely support the aspiration of Koreans for national reunification. It’s a natural process. However, I take as point of departure that it should be exclusively peaceful and take into account the interests of the North, as well as of the South,” he said. “Nothing…should be imposed on partners, otherwise the process will become destructive instead of having a positive outcome. And, on the contrary, if the partners’ interests are respected with consideration for the obvious longing of the people – and I believe that every Korean in his or her heart thinks of a possible reunification of the country irrespective of his or her political views – this process can be very fruitful, constructive and bring great and positive results for the international politics, ensuring security in the region, as well as for the economics of the rapidly developing region,” he elaborated.

The Russian leader further explained “such process is positive for Russia… If it happens, I believe, cooperation between Russia and Korea as a whole will take on even new aspects. We will definitely advance, since all possible limitations connected with political issues will be overcome. And then it’ll probably be easier to implement joint infrastructure projects.” “However, I’d like to repeat that we’ll support an exclusively peaceful process, we’ll support exclusively those means, which in our modern and civilized world lead to a positive outcome instead of conflicts, tragedies and destruction,” V. Putin emphasized.

Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept, approved by President V. Putin last December states that “Russia is interested in maintaining traditionally friendly relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea, and will seek to ease confrontation and de-escalate tension on the Korean Peninsula, as well as achieve reconciliation and facilitate intra-Korean cooperation by promoting political dialogue.”

So both on security and economic reasons Russia is vitally interested in peace, reconciliation and reunification of Korea. This conclusion seems especially important in view of continuing attempts by some experts to convince public opinion than none of the neighboring countries, including Russia, is interested in Korea’s reunification. Such attempts are aimed at placating some countries’ egoistic, arrogant policy and disguise their attempts to keep their military dominance in the region indefinitely at any price.

3. Nuclear Problem: for Comprehensive Solution

Moscow is convinced that only removal of mutual concerns of all parties involved in the Six-party talks on the basis of a broad compromise will make it possible to achieve the goals of the world community with regard to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Russia’s firm stand is to achieve this aim through political-diplomatic means only.

Firstly, any war on Russia’s borders, to say nothing of one with high possibility of using WMD, will be a direct threat to her security. The security of Russia’s Far Eastern regions and their population’s lives directly depend on how events in Korea will evolve.

In case of an armed conflict on the peninsula the radioactive clouds from dozens of Korean Chernobyls (many of 25 South Korean atomic power plants could be destroyed by North Korea with conventional weapons only), and streams of refugees would not reach the U.S. Pacific coast, but they would certainly reach Russia’s Far East territory.

Threat of a major conflict on the peninsula can sharply increase outflow of the population from the Russian Far East. In case a war is unleashed, the demographic situation in the Far East can become just catastrophic.

Secondly, in case of an armed conflict in Korea, Moscow could hardly expect implementation of multilateral energy and transportation projects in this region with which Russia links social and economic development of her Far Eastern region.
Russia from time to time reminded her partners at the Six-Party talks that one of the obstacles to the DPRK’s better behavior is “rather tough pressure exerted by some partners.” Moscow believes that to solve the problem “we should not push the situation into the corner, but employ negotiations, and use the Six-Party format.”

Russia’s leaders believe that “we should make attempts, we should talk, and we should try and offer incentives to North Korea to make it see that there is no alternative to cooperation, that nuclear power engineering, nuclear programs must be exclusively peaceful. This is the only way to achieve progress. And we are ready for that.”

Russia President V. Putin in his article on foreign policy, published on February 27, 2012 during election campaign, pointed out that “all this fervor around the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea makes one wonder how the risks of nuclear weapons proliferation emerge and who is aggravating them. It seems that the more frequent cases of crude and even armed outside interference in the domestic affairs of countries may prompt authoritarian (and other) regimes to possess nuclear weapons.”

It is essential to do everything we can to prevent any country from being tempted to get nuclear weapons. Non-proliferation campaigners must also change their conduct, especially those that are used to penalizing other countries by force, without letting the diplomats do their job. This was the case in Iraq – its problems have only become worse after an almost decade-long occupation.

During last two decades North Korea has taken advantage of the “draw situation” between the U.S.A. and rising China in the region. Having been frightened by the U.S.A.-led invasions to a number of countries and feeling incapable to defend themselves with their obsolete conventional armaments; Pyongyang has started to develop missile and nuclear weapons to deter a possible attack or prevent a regime change scenario.

However, Pyongyang’s priority remains a compromise solution as the only way to remove an external threat and to get access to investments and assistance from the West. The latter is vitally important for North Korea since only then it will be possible to revive and modernize the country’s economy. Without that, it will be very difficult for the regime to survive.

So the future of the Six-Party talks will depend mainly on what choice will be made by the U.S.A. – whether it limits its demands to North Korea to a nonproliferation agenda or continues to pursue simultaneously a backstage agenda to realize a regime change scenario. In the latter case the DPRK is unlikely to give up its “nuclear deterrent.”

4. Vision of the Reunified Korea

History of the Korean settlement for the past two decades, including time and again encountered difficulties in solving the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula, makes us to conclude that without solution of a certain fundamental problem, directly related to the region’s future security architecture as a whole, we will continue incessantly stumble on minor problems and will not be capable to tackle them.

The fundamental, key issue which any future peace process in Northeast Asia should to resolve is defining an acceptable for all “big countries” place for the reunified Korea in the future regional security system. Short of such a vision each and every participant of the future peace system will remain very suspicious about others’ plans and moves.

Many politicians and experts in the U.S.A., the ROK and Japan have already listed the reunified Korea as a member of the tripartite alliance of U.S.A.-Japan-ROK, to which Australia has been already linked.

However, such plans are unlikely to be welcomed in Moscow and Beijing. Both countries are likely to perceive such a triangle as a deterrent against Russia and China. Such an alliance would be tantamount to the emergence on Russia’s eastern borders of a body similar to NATO, under the umbrella of TMD system which is actively deployed by the U.S.A. and their allies in the region.

Calculations to the effect that future reunified Korea will be de-facto a forward base of maritime powers – the United States and Japan – against continental – China and Russia can hamper and is already hindering both the establishment of a reliable and sustainable peace system in Northeast Asia, the solution of the nuclear problem and the reunification of Korea.

The issue of foreign policy’s orientation of the reunified Korean state and its future alliances is extremely important, of course, not only for Russia, but also for China, the U.S.A. and Japan and, of course, for the Koreans themselves.

Neutralization of reunified Korea with international guarantees from the U.S.A. China, Russia and Japan may be the most acceptable option to all those concerned and genially interested in an early and peaceful Korean settlement. Members of the “Big Four” (China, Russia, the U.S.A. and Japan) should give formal guarantees of the reunified Korea’s neutral status. This status could be supported and reinforced by the UN Security Council, which can adopt a special resolution to that effect.

The “big countries” should also take obligations to refrain from entering into any military alliance with the reunified Korea and promise to each other and to the Koreans, of course, to never send to, or deploy their troops on the Korean soil (except in cases of unanimous decisions by the UN Security Council adopted in accordance with the UN Charter).

For its part, the reunified Korea also should declare herself a neutral state, takes an obligation not to conclude military treaties with other countries (the existing agreements between China and North Korea, South Korea and the United States cease to have effect in due time), not to invite any foreign troops on her territory. The Korean troops can be sent overseas only as a peacekeeping or disaster relieve force following the relevant decision by the UN Security Council. The participation of the united Korea in various non-military international and regional organizations (APEC, ASEM, ASEAN Regional Forum, etc.), bilateral agreements on economic, trade and cultural cooperation are encouraged and supported.

The obligations taken and promises given by the North and the South to each other in a number of inter-Korean documents to achieve reunification through peaceful means should acquire legal status and be guaranteed by the “Big Four”. Those guarantees and related conditions must be accepted by Seoul and Pyongyang. This will allow them to proceed to substantial mutual reductions of armed forces and armaments along with simultaneous withdrawal of foreign troops from the peninsula. As a result, the DPRK will be able to release considerable funds for modernization of her economy and infrastructure, and the Republic of Korea will get additional money to assist the North to fulfill the task.

Neutralization of a reunified Korea will be a real “big bargain”, or compromise among the “Big Four”. It must be reached to serve as a cornerstone for a sustainable peace mechanism in Northeast Asia. The future security architecture in the region should be fair, or, in other words, to provide the region’s countries with such external conditions that are most conducive to their common security and socio-economic development. It also should ensure finding and implementing mutually acceptable compromises, and not to become a tool of imposing the interests of one or other group of countries onto other participants of such an organization. Russia stands for establishing the very such mechanism.

5. Conclusion

Meanwhile, the current long pause in the Six-Party process provide South and North Korea with unique chance through their own combined efforts to size leadership in removing threat of another major conflict, promoting peace and common prosperity. The start of the 21st century proved that an inter-Korean dialogue has all chances to become a major factor of security and stability on the Korean peninsula. The dialogue is vitally necessary to improve the current uneasy situation in the inter-Korean relations.

The best option for the Koreans would be to resume working on implementation of the bilateral agreements and understandings reached between South and North Korea at the various talks and contacts held during several previous decades, including those agreed upon at the historical inter-Korean summits of 2000 and 2007. It is high time for Koreans both in the North and in the South to take nation’s destiny in their own hands.

Russia hopes that the reunified Korea will become her good neighbor and a major economic partner. Emergence of such an actor in the region is perceived as favorable for Russia since it would broaden her policy options in Northeast Asia.

[1] Denisov V.Inter-Korean Settlement and Russia’s Interests. Moscow. International Affairs, 2002, No.1, p. 59.

[1] Tkachenko V. Korean Peninsula and Russia’s Interests. Moscow. Orient Literature Publishing House. 2000, p.165.

[1] Vladimir Putin met with the President of the Republic of Korea Roh Moo Hyun, Pusan, November 19, 2005. http:\\www.mid.ru

[1] Titarenko M. Russia and Her Asian Partners in Globalizing World. Strategic Interaction: Problems &Prospects. Forum Publishing House. Moscow. 2012. p. 471.

[1] Russia-Korean Joint Declaration. Moscow. September 21, 2004. http://www.mid.ru; Vladimir Putin met with the President of the Republic of Korea, Roh Moo Hyun,Pusan, November 19, 2005. http:\\www.mid.ru

[1] Official site of the President of Russia. Interview to Korean Broadcasting System.12 November 2013, Novo-Ogaryovo, Moscow Region 12 November 2013, http://eng.news.kremlin.ru/news/6258

[1] Official site of the President of Russia. Interview to Korean Broadcasting System.12 November 2013, Novo-Ogaryovo, Moscow Region 12 November 2013, http://eng.news.kremlin.ru/news/6258

[1] Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation (approved by President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin on November 30, 2016). 2232-01-12-2016 http://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/official_documents/-/asset_publisher/CptICkB6BZ29/content/id/2542248

[1] Official Spokesman for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Alexander Yakovenko Replies to Questions from Russian Media on North Korea Problems. May 28, 2003. http://www.mid.ru

[1] Zhebin, Alexander. The Future Vision for a United Korean Peninsula: A Russian Perspective. In One Korea: Visions of Korean unification. Ed. byTae-Hwan Kwak,Seung-Ho Joo. Routledge. 2017. p.155.

[1] V.Putin’s interview to CBS anchor Mike Wallace. May 9, 2005. http://www.mid.ru

[1] Official site of the President of Russia. Interview by Dmitry Medvedev to China Central Television (CCTV) April 12, 2011, Gorki, Moscow Region. URL: http://eng.news.kremlin.ru/transcripts/2059

[1] Putin V. Russia and the Changing World. Moscow News. February 27, 2012.

[1] Ibid.

[1] Australia pushes defense ties with Japan. AFP Tokyo dispatch, April 22, 2011.

[1] Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation (approved by President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin on November 30, 2016). 2232-01-12-2016 http://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/official_documents/-/asset_publisher/CptICkB6BZ29/content/id/2542248

This paper was prepared for the Korean Reunification Track of the Global Peace Convention 2017 in Manila, Philippines held from February 28-March 3. The Global Peace Convention is a preeminent, world-level platform organized by the Global Peace Foundation and sponsors, supporters and partners such as the One Korea Foundation, to share best practices and develop collaborative strategies in areas of peacebuilding, education, entrepreneurship, sustainable development, youth and women empowerment, and other fields of social impact.