17 August 2005

Kim Jong Il Has Borscht With His Kimchi

Just an interesting side note: while the inter-Korean commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Liberation Day was taking place in Seoul, with the North Korean delegation present, in Pyongyang Kim Jong Il was hanging out with the Russians. Kim met with Konstantin Borisovich Pulikovski, presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District of Russia (and a frequent interlocutor with Kim), as well as a delegation of the Russian veteran law-makers and the visiting Russian State Academy Beryozka Dancing Troup, throwing a banquet for one and all.

Now, I raise this because on August 1, an unnamed official from RosAtom (Russia’s Federal Agency for Atomic Energy), told Itar-Tass that Moscow could build a nuclear power plant in North Korea in six or seven years, and that “this is quite possible if the construction of such nuclear power plant will be commercially profitable for Russia and North Korea will return to the treaty on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.” On the same day, Valery Yermolov, deputy head of the Russian delegation to the six-nation talks, said Moscow could offer electricity and natural gas supplies to North Korea, as well as reconstruction of thermal power plants built with Soviet assistance, in return for Pyongyang’s termination of its military nuclear program.

Not long after these statements, the six-party talks spiraled into ineffectiveness, and North Korea altered its position, demanding August 4 that it be allowed to maintain a civilian nuclear program. Three days later, the talks recessed for three weeks.

While Moscow had apparently attempted to make it seem like it was playing little role in the six-party talks (the Russian chief delegate left early), it was apparently playing behind the scenes – and the nuclear power offer apparently tipped the scales for Pyongyang. Now we see Kim Jong Il spending time with the Russians (not the Chinese) to mark Liberation Day. While this may be seen as logical on one level – after all, it was Russia that joined the Pacific war in the last days and therefore was given the right to occupy – sorry – oversee – the northern half of Korea, so Russia shares in the VJ Day recognition. But Chinese-North Korean relations have been on the skids for months, and this, coming on the heels of embarrassing the Chinese in the final days of the six-party talks, certainly will grate on Beijing.

Now look to the west of North Korea just a bit, and watch the joint Russian/Chinese amphibious, paratroop and naval assault operations, and see Russia showing Pyongyang how it could come to its former apprentice’s aid if there was a war with the United States, and suddenly the visit to the dancing troops doesn’t seem so jocular.

Add in that at the same time at the beginning of August is when RosAtom officials said Iran was in its rights to pursue a nuclear program, and that Russia would continue to work with Iran in its nuclear program, and we see a concerted Russian effort to try to play two simultaneous crises for the united States. And while Washington may see these two (Iran and North Korea) as somewhat unrelated, Moscow certainly doesn’t.

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