Russia has much to offer the Korean peace process, from denuclearisation expertise to experience as a mediator

Six years as a recluse consolidating power, often in 
unsavory ways
, while perfecting the country’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles along the way, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has since come out of isolation, giving new meaning to the 1960s Beach Boys hit, I Get Around.
In the last 16 months, he has met four times with China’s President 
Xi Jinping
, three times with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in, twice with US President 
Donald Trump
 and finally with Russia’s President 
Vladimir Putin
, the latter just across the Russian-North Korean border in Vladivostok, in counterpoint to an exhausting 60-hour 
train ride
 to Hanoi to meet Trump. Still, having made all the rounds only to a wind up in a familiar place – impasse – defies reason.
Although greeted with scepticism, the Kim-Putin summit should be viewed as a positive – not a negative – development, a potential turning point and one area where Moscow could actually make a major contribution to international peace and security. Neither Russia nor Putin is a stranger to Korean affairs. Putin held multiple summits and negotiated a missile moratorium with Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il, in 2000 while the former in its Soviet incarnation furnished the North with its only nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, starting the country on a nuclear trajectory.
Putin also put his finger on the central issue in emphasising the need to make explicit what was implicit in the Singapore summit communiqué between Trump and Kim: denuclearisation must be accomplished in tandem with “a stable and lasting peace regime”.
In promising to take up the issue with Xi in the near future, Putin has also assumed the mantle of mediator and diplomatic intermediary while making the case for a multilateral – rather than 
 – approach, which makes sense given that the sanctions regime is monitored by the UN Security Council, with ultimate responsibility for sanctions relief as well as for coordinating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the denuclearisation process.
It also makes sense from a geopolitical and historical perspective. Both China and Russia border North Korea. Russia, in particular, both founded the regime and anointed Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, as leader of what has become the Kim dynasty, constituting a powerful political umbilical cord
And while the former Soviet Union backed Kim Il-sung in his unsuccessful attempt to unify the Korean peninsula militarily in 1950, it was China that pulled his chestnuts out of the fire by intervening in the Korean war, temporarily eclipsing the former Soviet Union in Korean affairs in the post-Korean war period – though the North remained wary politically of long-term Chinese intentions vis-à-vis the Korean peninsula.
Russia has been on the sidelines for so long – the half-century since the end of the Korean war – that it’s hard to remember the major role it played in Korea historically in the late 19th and early 20th century. This included protecting the Korean king in Seoul’s Russian legation for a little more than 12 months in 1896-97 following the Korean queen’s assassination by Japanese agents, before Russia lost out to Japan in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) and Tokyo colonised the peninsula.


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