Recent Russia-North Korea developments

“Russia and North Korea hold joint meeting on cooperation in trade, economy, science and technology”
Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
March 22, 2018

The DPRK-Russia Intergovernmental Committee for cooperation in trade, economy, science and technology occurred at the People’s Palace of Culture in central Pyongyang on March 21.

According to the KCNA, the North Korean delegation was headed by Minister of External Economic Relations Kim Yong-jae, while the economic delegation from the Russian Federation included Minister of Development of the Russian Far East Aleksandr Galushka as well as Russian Ambassador to Pyongyang Alexander Matsegora.

The seventh meeting was held in Pyongyang in April 2015. This year, the Russian delegation arrived in North Korea on March 20 to attend the meeting.

According to the KCNA, “The two sides discussed the issues of further expanding and developing trade, economic and scientific cooperation between North Korea and Russia.” Specific agenda for the meeting was not disclosed.

On the same day, the Russian delegations met with DPRK Vice Premier and State Planning Commission Chairman Ro Tu-chol and presented to him a gift for North Korean leader, Chairman Kim Jong Un.

Russia and North Korea are respectively sanctioned by the United States and the international community. The expansion of cooperation between the two countries appears somewhat of a position where “misery loves company.”

South Korea’s Yonhap News reported on March 22 that the two countries would discuss bilateral cooperation in the areas of energy, agriculture and fisheries, transportation, and science and technology.

In addition, the news agency said Galushka invited the North Korean leadership to the 4th Eastern Economic Forum scheduled to be held in Vladivostok in September. “We will discuss trade and economic relations between Russia and North Korea within the framework set forth by the United Nations Security Council,” Galushka said at the beginning of the meeting. According to what the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East disclosed on its website, the Russian minister also said that Russia is “ready to provide full support for the establishment of bilateral cooperation that does not violate the international sanctions.”

NK News and The Washington Post reported that the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East announced that the two sides would create a working group on a new  vehicular bridge crossing to complement the existing railway bridge:

The two nations have long suggested a crossing that would allow vehicles to go between them without a lengthy detour through China. And Wednesday, the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East announced in a statement that the two sides would create a working group on a new crossing.

“There are 23 automobile checkpoints between [North Korea] and China, and not one with Russia,” the ministry quoted Ro Tu Chol, a North Korean minister, as saying during the meeting. “Currently, when importing goods from [Russia’s far east], they do not come across the border with Russia, but through China. This greatly extends the path.”

Ro suggested expanding the existing bridge, according to the statement. The Russian representative at the meeting, Alexander Galushka, the minister for the development of the Russia’s far east, suggested building a semi-permanent bridge of pontoons.

Historically, DPRK-Russia trade amounts to about $100 million per year, but it is unclear to me what the current level of trade is now that UNSC sanctions have been ratcheted up. Russian organizations have been playing a role in helping the DPRK bypass sanctions enforcement. Russia has resisted repatriating North Korean workers. There is also a ferry that runs between Valdivostok and Rason that facilitates trade. So the picture is complicated.

Russia’s biggest investment in North Korea is its railway link to Rason Port. North Korea reportedly receives some internet service through Russia. Russia also maintains the financial link between the United Nations and North Korea’s sanctioned foreign Trade Bank. In 2014, Russia and North Korea settled Soviet-era debt issue.

However, plenty of other ambitious projects have not taken off. Russia has expressed interest in renovating the North Korean railway system. Russia has expressed an interest in a gas pipeline that supplies product to both North and South Korea. Russia and North Korea have also discussed at least one minerals-for-electricity deal. There was even talk of allowing Russian firms into the Kaesong Industrial Complex, as well as modernization of the mining sector, automobile industry, and electric power plants (built by the Soviets).

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