Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category

North Korea’s Ministry of External Economic Affairs stresses business at economic development zones is gaining momentum

Friday, October 10th, 2014

Institute for Far Easter Studies (IFES)

In a September 29, 2014 interview by the Choson Sinbo, Director of North Korea’s Ministry of External Economic Affairs, Oh Tae Bong, reported that business in North Korea’s newly established economic development zones (EDZ) is gradually being ramped up. In the interview, Oh mentioned the Jindo Export Processing Zone in Nampo City as an example where foreign investment capital is being prepared for the construction of substructure facilities such as piers and power plants and factories for heavy industry like cement and steel.

The Jindo Export Processing Zone carries out technology transfers and exports completed industrial products to foreign countries. Specifically, Secretary Oh emphasized, “Several countries have expressed great interest in the Jindo Export Processing Zone, and investment contracts have already been signed with a few targets such as Hong Kong.” If the Jindo Export Processing Zone succeeds, it is expected that more processing zones will be developed around the country. If development goes smoothly, the structure of primary export products, including underground resources, would change drastically and promote product diversification.

Secretary Oh also talked about the results achieved through economic cooperation with neighboring countries, saying, “Our nation is consulting with Russian governmental organizations regarding the cooperation issues experienced with railroad reconstruction and modernization.” He mentions that certain agreements have already been made in August 2014, and commented that “Relations between two countries have great effect on foreign economic activity, such as investments.” In other words, despite the US and UN imposed economic sanctions against North Korea, Russia has taken an active stance toward economic cooperation with North Korea.

With regards to the Ministry of External Economic Affairs (formerly the Ministry of Foreign Trade), Director Oh explained that the ministry was newly reorganized in June 2014 to expand the state’s foreign economic activities. According to Oh, the ministry will contribute to the strengthening of economic ties between nations, and take unified command over trade, joint ventures, attraction of foreign capital, and economic development zones.

More specifically, Secretary Oh stated that “Since the Ministry of Trade, the Joint Venture and Investment Commission, and State Economic Development Committee have all been combined into one body responsible for foreign economic enterprises, business complexity has disappeared and unity has been secured.” It is said that, first, the process procedures necessary in economic trade activities have been simplified. Second, the combining of various departments among the three committees into one single organization has improved work efficiency. Finally, the agency-centered system has disappeared, allowing for a much more efficient foreign economic industry.

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Rason Port gets competition from Zarubino Port

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Zarubino-port

Pictured above (Google Earth) the relative locations of Rason and Zarubino Ports

According to Port Technology International:

China and Russia are to join forces and morph Russia’s Zarubino Port into one of the biggest ports in northeast Asia, according to the Chinese People’s Daily.

Zarubino Port is at the far south-eastern tip of Russia and a stones throw from North Korea, and only 18km from China.

North-east China’s Jilin province and Russia’s Summa Group reportedly signed a joint-agreement concerning the rejuvenation of the port at the fourth Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), in Shanghai in May, 2014.

It is planned that the Zarubino Port will have the ability to handle 60 million tonnes of cargo once construction is completed.

ECNS, an English-language Chinese news source, reported a Summa deputy president as stating the planned port will be multifunctional, and is intended to “hugely benefit China and Russia”.

The port will be used to serve as a key port in ensuring the security of food provisions.

Read more at Voice of America.

Zarubina port is only 80km (directly) north-east of Rason. It will be interesting to see what kind of effect this project will have on development at Rason.

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North Koreans attend Russian arms expo

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

North Korea sent a delegation to a Russian arms exposition last week, a news report said Tuesday, in an apparent sign of Pyongyang’s continuing interest in trading arms despite U.N. sanctions.

North Korean government officials attended this year’s Oboronexpo held in Zhukovsky, near Moscow, from Aug. 13-17, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported, quoting the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS.

The annual arms show puts missile systems, tanks, artillery, and other advanced weapons and relevant technologies on display.

More than 300 defense firms from 11 nations took part in the event.

The RFA, a Washington-based network, said it is possible that the North’s participation was aimed at purchasing weapons.

It has not confirmed whether Pyongyang signed any contracts during the expo, however.

The isolated nation is prohibited from weapons trading under U.N. sanctions imposed in response to long-range rocket and nuclear tests.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea joins Russian arms expo despite sanctions
Yonhap
2014-8-19

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Rajin (Rason) port 3 open for business

Friday, July 18th, 2014

According to KCNA:

Wharf No. 3 of Rajin Port Goes Operational

Rason, July 18, 2014 20:13 KST (KCNA) — Wharf No. 3 of Rajin Port has been built with success in the DPRK.

The building of the wharf pursuant to the plan for cooperation between the DPRK and Russia provided another foundation for making a positive contribution to boosting the friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries and economic and trade relations among countries of Europe and Northeast Asia.

An inaugural ceremony took place in Rason City Friday.

Present there were Jon Kil Su, minister of Railways, officials concerned and working people in the city.

Also present there were Vladimir Yakunin, president of the Russian Railways Company, Yury Viktorovich Bochkarev, consul general of the Russian Federation in Chongjin, those concerned of railways and other Russian guests and staff members of foreign embassies in the DPRK.

Vladimir Yakunin in a speech said he was pleased with the completion of the wharf.

The wharf is capable of loading and unloading millions of tons of coal, he said, expressing belief that such joint work would not only develop the bilateral cooperation but promote friendship and mutual understanding between the two countries.

Jon Kil Su said in his speech that the successful reconstruction of the Rajin-Khasan railway section and the completion of Wharf No. 3 of Rajin Port are precious products of the vitality of the Moscow Declaration signed by leader Kim Jong Il and President V. V. Putin. He noted that the transport channel newly provided in the spirit of friendship and cooperation between the two peoples would satisfactorily play the role of a friendship bridge linking Europe and Northeast Asia and, through this, the international position of the Rason Economic and Trade Zone would be further enhanced.

Then followed congratulatory speeches.

A reception was given on the same day.

According to ITAR-TASS:

A new Russian-North Korean terminal was commissioned on Friday in Rajin, which is the major seaport of the North Korean Rason trade and economic zone located in the northeast of the republic. Thus, the pilot part of the project aimed at the reconstruction of the Trans-Korean railway from Russia’s Hasan to the seaport of Rajinis over. Relevant agreement of the heads of Russian, North and South Korean railway authorities was signed in Russia’s Siberian city of Irkutsk in 2006.

Russian Railways’ (RZD) subsidiary, RZD Trade House, and the Rajin port had established the joint venture Rason Con Trans in order to carry out the modernization process. The cargo traffic capacity of the new high-tech multi-purpose facility is about five million tonnes a year. The initial stage of the terminal operation envisions supplies of coal and other bulky goods towards the port. Alongside with cargo transshipment and storage, the terminal makes it possible to organize coal magnetic cleaning and coal separating.

“Today, we are eyeing the loading of the first ship with Russia-mined coal,” RZD President Vladimir Yakunin told the terminal commissioning ceremony. “We are interested in bigger amounts of cargoes in the terminal and higher number of vessels, which will represent the whole world. The launching of the terminal is expected to be fruitful and beneficial not only for the economy of North Korea, but also business communities of neighbor states.”

Jointly with representatives from Russia and North Korea, businessmen from South Korea were also attending the ceremony.

This Russian source had a good summary of events leading up to the opening (Translated by Google):

The official ceremony is scheduled for July 18 in Rajin, which is considered the main port of the SRE. Investment in the project is mainly carried out by the Russian side.The volume of transshipment terminal at the first stage is planned at 4-5 million tons, according to ITAR-TASS.

Initially, the terminal was planned for container transport, but in agreement with the leadership of North Korea until it will be used for the carriage of the Russian coal. In the future, is expected to increase traffic and expand the range of goods.

Agreement to begin the reconstruction of the railway line from the Russian station to Hassan and the port of Rajin as a pilot project to restore the Trans-Korean Railway was reached in 2006. The project started in October 2008, when an agreement was signed between the “Russian Railways” and the Ministry of Railway Transport of the DPRK to cooperate in its implementation. The project is implemented by the joint venture “RasonKonTrans”, created in the same year, with the share of JSC “RZD Trading House” (70%) and the port of Rajin (30%).

In October 2011, a team of machinists Far Eastern Railways of Russia led a demonstration container train in Rajin, opening cargo traffic between the two countries. To control the movement of trains on the line Hasan – Rajin, a special control center with the participation of specialists “RasonKonTrans” and North Korean shipping company “Donghae”.

34 specialists from the DPRK have been trained in the training centers of the Far Eastern Railway.

In the future, when the message will be set up all over trnskoreyskoy magitrali – from the South Korean port of Pusan ​​through Korea to Russia, will be able to refocus on the Russian Trans-Siberian significant portion of goods that are currently going by sea from South Korea to Europe.

According to experts, these advantages have Rajin – ice-free port on the eastern coast of North Korea with the developed infrastructure, which uses Russian standard gauge with a high degree of security for shippers and benefits for entrepreneurs.

Additional information:

1. The Russia-Rason Railway that services the port was opened in September 2013.

2. South Korea is also interested in the Rajin port.

3. There has been some confusion on the legal status of the various piers at Rajin. I help shed some light on the confusion here.

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Increase in DPRK-Vladivostok air travel in 2014

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

Air passenger traffic between the North Korean capital and the neighboring Russian port city of Vladivostok surged more than 20 percent in the first half of 2014 from a year earlier, a news report said Wednesday, amid signs of closer ties between the two nations.

The number of passengers between Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang and Vladivostok International Airport in the Russian Far East shot up 22 percent on-year during the January-June period, the Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.

It cited data from the Vladivostok airport, which did not reveal the exact number of passengers and the reason for the jump.

However, RFA attributed the surge to increased bilateral exchanges and cooperation in economic, tourism and other fields.

The sharp increase compares with a 1.7 percent drop in the number of users of Vladivostok International Airport during the six-month period, which totaled 838,000, it said.

North Korea’s Air Koryo operates the Tupolev Tu-204 aircraft twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays, on the Pyongyang-Vladivostok route.

Read the whole story here:
Pyongyang-Vladivostok passengers up 22 pct in H1: report
Yonhap
2014-7-16

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DPRK-Russia ties expanding

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

According to Yonhap:

Cross-border trade between North Korea and Russia jumped 37 percent to US$104 million in 2013 from the $76 million recorded in the previous year, according to a report by Lee Yong-hwa, a researcher at the private think tank Hyundai Research Institute.

“The North is believed to have forged deeper relations with Russia in an effort to revitalize its economy and prevent it from becoming excessively dependent on China,” Lee said in the report.

The researcher said the two countries’ economic cooperation is forecast to grow further going forward as the North’s attempts to revitalize its moribund economy coincide with Russia’s bid to develop its Far Eastern regions.

According to the report, the portion of trade between North Korea and Far Eastern Russia out of the two nations’ total trade volume surged to 23.1 percent in 2013 from the 10 percent tallied in 2009, indicating that Russia’s Far East development policies have added to the overall bilateral trade expansion.

The socialist country has also tightened relations with Russia in other business areas including transportation and logistics as well as in the energy industry, the report added.

China was the biggest trading partner for North Korea last year with their bilateral trade volume reaching $6.54 billion, according to data from the Korea International Trade Association (KITA).

But trade between the two Koreas fell to its lowest level in eight years in 2013 due to their strained relations. Inter-Korean trade reached $1.15 billion last year, down a whopping 41.9 percent from the previous year’s $1.98 billion, the data showed.

Read the full story here:
Russia-N. Korea economic ties expanding: report
Yonhap
2014-7-3

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DPRK-Russia personnel exchanges and economic cooperation expand

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2014-5-8

North Korea and Russia have been garnering attention lately as closer ties are being formed between the two nations through personnel exchanges and increased economic cooperation. It may even appear as though Russia has begun to edge out China as North Korea’s closest ally.
 
An event was held in Pyongyang on April 28, 2014 in celebration of Russia’s donation of dozens of fire engines to North Korea, openly showing the close ties between the two nations. In attendance were high-level officials from both countries, including Deputy Prime Minister and Presidential Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Yury Trutnev from Russia and Ro Tu Chol, Vice Premier of the Cabinet of the DPRK.
 
Through this ceremony, it can be seen that Russia is expanding the variety of goods and aid provided to North Korea, which mainly consisted of basic supplies such as food and medicine. In addition to the donation ceremony, many other events showing improved economic cooperation between the two nations were held that day. Such events include the signing of an economic and trade cooperation agreement between the DPRK’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and the Russian Federation’s Amur Regional Government, and the signing of a cooperation agreement between the railway transportation sectors of the DPRK’s Ministry of Railways and Mostovik Scientific and Production Organization, a large Russian corporation specializing in design and construction.
 
Prior to the ceremony, a delegation from the Russian Center for Energy and Security Studies visited North Korea from April 22 to 28, and another delegation from the Russian state of Sakhalin signed an economic cooperation and trade protocol with North Korea on April 24. The spur in Russian economic cooperation and high-level visits to North Korea seems to have started with Rustam Minnikhanov, President of the Republic of Tatarstan, who ventured to Pyongyang late last March.
 
The recent development in relations between the Russian Federation and the DPRK is clearly reflected in North Korean state media, which in the month of April published nearly 200 articles mentioning Russia. Meanwhile, articles mentioning China numbered at a mere 120 during the same time period.
 
On the other hand, the exchanges between China and North Korea are on a downslide. An overview of North Korean media reports last month reveal that except for China’s National Tourism Administration friendship delegation that paid a visit to Pyongyang on April 25, no other exchanges were observed between the two nations last month. The DPRK-China trade volume for the first quarter decreased 2.83 percent to 1.27 billion USD from the previous year.
 
The fewer exchanges between China and North Korea are believed to have some connection to the purge of Jang Song Thaek which occurred in December 2013. Thus, the rise in recent exchanges between Russia and North Korea can be seen as North Korea’s effort to reduce its dependence on China.
 
The Kim Jong Un regime continues to emphasize the importance of diversifying trade for the country’s economic development. For Russia, there is a need to expand friendly relations with North Korea to widen Moscow’s political and economic influence on the Korean peninsula and gain access to more ice-free ports like North Korea’s Rajin Port. Moreover, this may be in line with Russia’s strategic effort to seek a breakthrough with the United States and other Western countries on the Ukrainian crisis by strengthening cooperation with North Korea.

NKeconWatch: 38 North has more analysis here.

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DPRK signs economic agreement with local Russian governments

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Not much specific information is available, but the DPRK has signed economic agreements with Russia’s Amur and Sakhalin Regions.

According to RIA Novosti:

North Korea’s Foreign Trade Ministry and the authorities of Russia’s Amur region in the country’s southeast have signed an economic cooperation agreement, the Yonhap news agency reports.

“An agreement on trade and economic cooperation was signed between the DPRK ministry of Foreign Trade and the Amur Regional Government of the Russian Federation,” Yonhap cited Pyongyang’s KCNA state news agency as saying Monday.

According to the Korean Central News Agency, the accord was signed Monday during the visit of Yuri Trutnev, a Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Putin’s official envoy to Russia’s Far Eastern Region.

As part of his North Korea trip, Yuri Trutnev met with the Cabinet’s Vice President Ro Tu-chol and reportedly shared his views on a broader economic cooperation between the two nations, among other issues.

The agreement between Moscow and Pyongyang is another step towards closer economic partnership in the Far Eastern region, after the Amur territory on China’s northern border signed a fraternity and trade deal with Korea’s South Pyongan province in 2011.

A similar economic cooperation agreement was signed last week between Pyongyang and the local government of Russia’s Sakhalin region.

Voice of Russia reports the following:

North Korean’s Foreign Trade Ministry and the government of Russia’s far-eastern Amur region have signed an agreement on trade and economic cooperation, the Yonhap news agency reports with reference to the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA).

The agreement was signed on Monday during a visit to Pyongyang of a Russian delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister and Presidential Plenipotentiary in the Far-Eastern Federal District Yuri Trutnev.

No further details have been immediately available.

A wide range of matters, connected with the development of political, trade-and-economic cooperation will be discussed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) by Yuri Trutnev, Russia’s Vice-Premier and Russia’s plenipotentiary presidential representative in the Far Eastern Federal District.

An official at the Russian Embassy to the DPRK said that Trutnev would arrive here by air on Monday by a special flight at the head of a Russian delegation for a three-day visit, TASS reports.

Apart from talks with DPRK officials, the Vice-Premier will attend a ceremony marking the handover of a large consignment of fire-engines to the Korean side.

The delegation will also lay flowers to the Liberation Monument here. The Monument bears an inscription “Eternal glory to the Great Soviet Army that liberated the Korean People from the yoke of Japanese militarists and opened up the road for the Korean people to freedom and independence!”.

The delegation leader will be accompanied by Primorsky Territory Governor Vladimir Miklushevsky, Khabarovsk Territory Governor Vyacheslav Shport, and Amur Region Governor Oleg Kozhemyako.

In March this year, the DPRK was visited by President Rustam Minnikhanov of the Republic of Tatarstan, as well as by Alexander Galushka, Russian Minister for the Development of the Far East. The latter attended a meeting of the Co-Chairmen of the Intergovernmental Commission for Trade-and-Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation between the Russian Federation and the DPRK as head of the Russian part of the Commission.

Moscow and Pyongyang actively strengthen economic contacts of late. The delegations of Russia and the DPRK attended a meeting the international “Organization for Cooperation of Railways. It is reckoned that the Organization’s main goals are to develop international freight and passenger transportation, and establish a Common Railway Transportation Space in Eurasia. This year the Organization’s conference is being attended for the first time by South Korea as well.

Tense relations between Pyongyang and Seoul are keeping on at the political level. Nevertheless, Russia is calling on the two countries to reach agreement between each other and take part in implementing the project for linking up the inter-Korean Railway and the Trans-Siberian Mainline Railway (Trans-Sib).

Railway transport is one of important areas of cooperation between Russia and the DPRK. A ceremony marking the completion of the upgrading of the railway section running from the Russian station of Khasan to the North Korean city of Rajin was held in the Republic in September last year. Work has been also completed to bring into being a general-purpose trans-shipment terminal in Rajin the principal port in the Rason trade-and-economic zone.

The upgrading of the infrastructure of the Khasan-Rajin railway leg is viewed as the pilot segment of the reconstruction of the entire Trans-Korea Railway. In prospect, when railway communication from the South Korean port of Pusan via the DPRK to Russia is established in full, an opportunity will open up to reorient to Russia’s Trans-Sib a considerable part of goods, which are currently shipped now via a trans-oceanic seaway from South Korea to Europe.

The possibility is being explored for inviting South Korean businessmen to participate in developing the railway transportation infrastructure o the DPRK, including port facilities.

Here is some comprehensive analysis by 38 North.

Here is some more analysis at the Hankoyreh.

Read the full stories here:
Russia, North Korea Strike Economic Cooperation Deal
RIA Novosti
2014-4-29

N Korea, Russia’s Amur region seal regional cooperation deal
Voice of Russia
2014-4-29

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Russia and DPRK discuss economic opportunities

Saturday, March 29th, 2014

What are the opportunities? Rason port, Iron Silk Road (Rail), Kaesong Industrial Complex, gas pipeline.

According to RIA Novosti:

Russia and North Korea have signed a new protocol to transition to using the ruble for payments between the two countries as part of an effort to boost annual bilateral trade to $1 billion by 2020, Russia’s Far East Development Ministry said Friday.

The announcement came as Russian officials have expressed a desire to explore new markets for the country’s businesses, following the introduction of sanctions by the West in reaction to Moscow’s stance over Crimea. Russian leaders have simultaneously reassured international investors the country remains open for business, and there are no plans to restrict international commerce.

The protocol announced Friday came following a visit of a Russian delegation to the Asian country for a meeting of a standing bilateral commission, timed to mark the 65th anniversary of a cooperation agreement between the Soviet Union and North Korea.

The parties agreed to move towards settling payments in rubles as well as adopting further measures to boost bilateral trade, including easing visa procedures and providing for Russian access to proposed special economic zones in the country, the ministry’s statement said.

The ministry reaffirmed the countries’ mutual interest in joint projects with South Korea, including international connections for railways [Iron Silk Road], gas pipelines and power lines.

The Russian delegation also proposed the entry of Russian businesses into the Kaesong Industrial Park, a special economic zone in North Korea just north of Seoul where South Korean companies are allowed to employ northern workers.

The two sides identified areas for further cooperation, including a transshipment complex at the port of Rason and technical cooperation for the modernization of North Korea’s mining sector, automobile industry and electric power plants.

According to the statement, during the talks Russian Far East Development Minister Alexander Galushka emphasized that achieving such goals would only be possible if stability is maintained on the Korean peninsula.

The next meeting of the bilateral commission is scheduled for June in Russia’s far eastern Vladivostok.

Here is what Yonhap reports:

North Korea and Russia have agreed to boost economic ties by pushing for trilateral projects involving South Korea, including a plan to support Russian companies’ entry into an inter-Korean industrial complex, a media report said Saturday.

The agreement between the two was made earlier this week when Russia’s Far East Development Minister Alexander Galushka visited the North for a five-day run until Friday to explore ways to boost bilateral economic cooperation, according to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

“The Russian delegation proposed the entry of Russian businesses into the Kaesong Industrial Park, a special economic zone in North Korea just north of Seoul where South Korean companies are allowed to employ northern workers,” the RIA Novosti reported, citing the ministry.

Officials of Seoul’s unification ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, welcomed the agreement between the North and Russia, while stressing the importance of Russia’s prior consultation with the South.

“Russian companies’ making inroads into the Kaesong park is desirable in terms of the internationalization of the complex … It would also prevent the North from unilaterally reversing its agreement with Seoul over the Kaeesong operation,” the ministry official said, requesting anonymity.

Internationalization of the enclave, a symbol of inter-Korean detente, is one of the key topics for inter-Korean meetings aimed at ensuring its normal operations and further invigorating the complex. The Kaesong park resumed operations in September, more than five months after the North unilaterally closed it in anger over Seoul-Washington joint military exercises.

“But it is crucial for Russia to discuss the matter with our side first as it is basically operated by the South Korean authorities,” he added.

A handful of companies from China, Australia and Germany have so far expressed interests in making an investment in the Kaesong complex, prompting the Seoul government to review holding joint presentation sessions with the North to lure investors from overseas, according to another ministry official.

Here is additional information from Yonhap on recent shipments from Russia to the DPRK:

Russia exported US$21.16 million’s worth of jib cranes, machinery used mostly for cargo handling at ports, to North Korea last year, accounting for nearly 22 percent of its total exports to the North, according to the report by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA). The amount surpasses that of Russia’s traditional export goods such as coal, petroleum and bituminous oil.

There were no records of the machines being exported to North Korea the year before, with the 2011 amount standing at $139,000.

North Korea and Russia maintain economic relations that include a project that would make North Korea’s northeastern port city of Rajin a logistics hub by connecting it to Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway. North Korea is said to have agreed to a long-term lease of the No. 3 dock at Rajin port to Russia and that it is modernizing facilities there. The cranes may be for such modernization efforts, the KOTRA report said.

Also noteworthy is Russia’s exports of ambulances to the North, amounting to approximately 10.1 billion won ($9.45 million), the fourth largest in terms of value. Ambulances are a relatively new product on the trade list.

KCNA’s reporting of the meeting was much more muted:

DPRK Premier Meets Minister of Development of Far East of Russia

Pyongyang, March 26 (KCNA) — Pak Pong Ju, premier of the DPRK Cabinet, met Alexandr Galushka, minister of the Development of Far East of Russia who is chairman of the Russian side to the Inter-governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology between the DPRK and Russia, and his party.

He had a friendly talk with them who paid a courtesy call on him at the Mansudae Assembly Hall on Wednesday.

Minutes of Talks between Governments of DPRK, Russia Signed

Pyongyang, March 26 (KCNA) — Minutes of talks on cooperation in trade, economy, science and technology between the governments of the DPRK and Russia were signed here Wednesday.

Present at the signing ceremony were Ri Ryong Nam, minister of Foreign Trade who is chairman of the DPRK side to the Inter-governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology between the DPRK and Russia, and officials concerned, Alexandr Galushka, minister for the Development of Far East who is chairman of the Russian side to the Inter-governmental Committee, and his party and Alexandr Timonin, Russian ambassador to the DPRK.

Ri Ryong Nam and Alexandr Galushka signed the minutes of the talks.

Read the full story here:
Russia, North Korea Agree to Settle Payments in Rubles in Trade Pact
RIA Novosti
2014-3-28

N. Korea, Russia to discuss supporting Moscow firms’ advance into Kaesong park
Yonhap
2014-3-29

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Russia to forgive DPRK debt – transact in rubles (2006-present)

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

UPDATE 10 (2014-10-20): According to RIA Novosti, the Russians and North Koreans have conducted their first transaction in rubles:

The first transactions in rubles between Russia and North Korea were carried out in October, Russia’s Far East Development Ministry said in a statement Monday.

“Russia and the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] have begun carrying out transactions in rubles in the framework of agreements, reached during the 6th meeting of the intergovernmental committee on commercial-economic relations between the Russian Federation and the DPRK, headed by the Minister for the Development of the Russian Far East Alexander Galushka,” the statement posted on ministry’s website reads.

In May, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law ratifying an agreement on settlement of the DPRK’s debt to Russia. Russia agreed to write off 90 percent of the North Korea’s debt to the former Soviet Union, which amounted to $10.94 billion as of September 17, 2012. The remaining 10 percent ($1.09 billion) is to be paid off in 40 installments over the next 20 years.

No word yet on what was purchased.

UPDATE 9 (2014-6-5): RIA Novosti reports that Russia and the DPRK will begin negotiating bilateral trade contracts in rubles rather than dollars. According to the article:

Russia and North Korea are preparing to launch bilateral transactions in the Russian ruble this month to boost trade turnover between the two nations to $1 billion by 2020, Russia’s Far East Development Minister said Thursday.

In May 2014, Moscow agreed to write off 10.94 billion of Pyongyang’s Soviet debt with the remaining 1.09 billion to be paid in installments over the next 20 years.

“The decision to write off DPRK’s debt to Russia has opened up the way to resolve a wide range of issues that was previously blocked by this debt load. Ruble transactions between Russia and DPRK will begin as early as this month, with first bank accounts to be set up in Russian banks,” Far East’s Development Minister Alexander Galushko said.

North Korea currently uses euros as the official currency in settling overseas trade deals.

The announcement came on the heels of a meeting in Russia’s far eastern city of Vladivostok where Galushko took part in the sixth annual session of the Russian-Korean standing commission, an intergovernmental agency on trade, economic and scientific cooperation.

The minister added that Russia hoped to ramp up its trade turnover with Korea to $1 billion, up from the current $112 million. “It is not much,” he pointed out, saying that a greater degree of Korea’s commitment to the existing bilateral projects could whip up sales to $400-500 million.

UPDATE 8 (2014-4-19): Russia has reportedly [formally] written of the DPRK’s debt. According to Reuters:

The State Duma lower house on Friday ratified a 2012 agreement to write off the bulk of North Korea’s debt. It said the total debt stood at $10.96 billion as of Sept. 17, 2012.

The rest of the debt, $1.09 billion, would be redeemed during the next 20 years, to be paid in equal instalments every six months. The outstanding debt owed by North Korea will be managed by Russia’s state development bank, Vnesheconombank.

Russia’s Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak told Russian media that the money could be used to fund mutual projects in North Korea, including a proposed gas pipeline and a railway to South Korea.

More at the Voice of Russia.

UPDATE 7 (2014-3-20): Russian Duma committee recommends write off $10 b DPRK debt. According to Voice of Russia:

Committee of the State Duma for the budget and taxes has issued a recommendation to the MPs to ratify an agreement between the Russian government and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on settling the North Korea’s debt to Russia on the Soviet-era loans issued to that country.

The document that was submitted for ratification by the Russian government features the agreements reached at the negotiations that lasted almost twenty years and took account of the special features of financial, political and economic relations between Russia and North Korea.

Debt settlement embraces all the categories of reciprocal financial claims and obligations of the former USSR and the DPRK, with the precise parameters registered on the date when the agreement is signed.

Overall amount of the DPRK’s financial obligations to Russia stood at an equivalent of $ 10.96 billion as of September 17, 2012.

“This amount is rather conventional in many ways – not only because of the exchange rate but also due to the interest rates accumulated over a huge period or, in other words, a non-return of the loans because many of them were issued in the 1980’s,” Sergei Storchak, a deputy minister of finance said at the session.

“We applied a standard pattern in which we write off 90% of the debts amount and 10% is left over,” he said. “We agreed to utilize this 10% for financing the joint projects implemented on the North Korean territory.”

There projects are related to the energy sector, healthcare, and the country’s foodstuff security.

“Frankly speaking, we hope we’ll be able to attain agreement in the course of future joint work on allotting plots of land for construction of a gas pipeline on the DPRK territory,” Storchak said adding that Russia’s major producer and exporter of natural gas, OAO Gazprom, continues eyeing a possible integration in the Korean market of gas.

For this purpose, it will need some land acquisitions and “a part of the debt can be utilized for this purpose,” Storchak said.

Russian government officials say settlement of debts on the loans issued by the former USSR with the observance of conditions coordinated with Pyongyang pursues three objectives.

In the first place, it removes the problem of North Korea’s outstanding debt to the Russian Federation that was an irritating factor for bilateral relations for quite some time.

Secondly, the agreements that have been reached enable Russia to exert noticeable influence on the DPRK’s social and economic development through projects in healthcare, education, and the energy sector, since Russia will have a say in the decisions on their financing.

Thirdly, owing to the presence of big enough debt claims, Russia will have an opportunity to take part in multilateral talks on settling the North Korean debts in the format of the Paris Club of Sovereign Debtors and to influence the terms of debt repayments in Pyongyang’s interests.

You can read more about the gas pipeline here.

UPDATE 6 (2012-9-18): RIA Novosti reports that the DPRK and Russia have signed a debt deal.  According to the article:

Russia and North Korea have signed a deal on settlement of the DPRK’s $11 billion debts to Russia, Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak told Prime news agency on Tuesday.

“It was signed yesterday,” Storchak said.

Russia and North Korea have been negotiating over the issue of Pyongyang’s debt to Russia, left over from the Soviet era, for the last four years without result. Russia did not rule out writing off part of the debt and either rescheduling the remainder or offsetting it against investment.

Storchak previously said it was understood a debt settlement would involve a conversion of the ruble debt into dollars, giving an initial discount of around 90 percent of the debt.

The remaining debt of over $1 billion would be used in a “debt for aid exchange” plan to assist with joint education, health and energy projects in North Korea.

Here is coverage of the deal in KCNA:

Agreement on Debt Settlement between DPRK, Russia Signed

Pyongyang, September 18 (KCNA) — An agreement on settling the debt incurred by the loan provided by the former Soviet Union which the DPRK owes to the Russian Federation was signed between the governments of the two countries in Moscow on Monday.

The agreement was inked by Vice-Minister of Finance Ki Kwang Ho from the DPRK side and Vice-Minister of Finance Sergey Storchak from the Russian side.

The conclusion of the agreement on the debt settlement would create fresh conditions for boosting the relations of economic cooperation between the two countries in the future.

The Wall Street Journal offers some additional details on the deal:

Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak told Interfax that the “restructuring conditions are standard in connection with our membership in the Paris Club, with a conversion into U.S. dollars at an appropriate discounted rate with the balance of the debt to be used for a debt-for-aid program.”

The $11 billion figure was reached by using the Soviet conversion rate of 67 kopecks to the dollar, the ministry said, which at today’s exchange rate would make the debt just $238 million. Russia has reached similar agreements over the years with many former Soviet-clients in larger part because there was little chance the loans would ever be repaid.

Russian and North Korea had resumed negotiations over the decades-old debt in August 2011, following a meeting between former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and the late-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. During the meeting, the two sides agreed to pursue a pipeline project that would send Russian gas to South Korea via North Korea.

The following June, a preliminary agreement was reached and the finance ministry submitted a proposal to the Russian government for approval, Interfax reported.

Experts say the settlement of the long-stalled debt talks represented a change in political will on both sides and would help spur along the pipeline project as well as other railway and electricity deals.

“The decision on a settlement of debt is a significant step as it removes the obstacles for cooperation. Now credits can be granted,” said Alexander Vorontsov, an expert on North Korea at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

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