North Korea–Russia relations

North Korea–Russia relations
North Korea–Russia relations
Map indicating locations of North Korea and Russia

North Korea


North Korea and Russia established diplomatic relations on October 12, 1948 shortly after the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was proclaimed. Close allies during the Cold War, the relations between them cooled down since the breakup of the Soviet Union. However, it regained some importance again during the 2000s.

Russia has sunk considerable amounts of capital into numerous large-scale, long-term international infrastructure projects involving the Korean peninsula, such as oil and gas pipelines and Trans-Korean and Trans-Siberian railroads junctions. These projects are of crucial importance to the economic revitalization of the Russian Far East, and in the case of a new Korean War, these projects—and Russian economic interests—would be severely damaged. The two states share a border along the lower Tumen River, which is 17 kilometers (11 mi) long and was formed only in 1860 when the Tsar bought lands from China.



Soviet Union


On March 5, 1949 Kim Il Sung visited the Soviet Union and asked for economical aid distributed over a period of six years, reports on the status of American soldiers in South Korea and mentions their lack of trade with other South East Asian countries. On Mar. 17, 1949 the two governments signed agreement on economic and cultural cooperation between the two sides.

During Cold War crises, therefore, the DPRK could count on Moscow’s support, regardless of the condition of official relations. For instance, although China’s role during the Korean War (1950–1953) is well-recognized, little is publicly known about the support the DPRK received from the Soviet military, which was officially a non-participant. Soviet pilots contributed to the air defense of North Korea, including the defense of the strategically vital Yalu River bridges. The pilots were from elite Soviet air units, many having served in World War II. However, there were far fewer Soviet pilots and crews than those in the armada of American air forces. In addition to their numerical disadvantage, Soviet pilots were in a tactically unfavorable position. They were based in territory neighboring the Chinese border, were ordered not to cross the 38th parallel under any circumstances, and to carry out operations only above territory held by North Korean and Chinese forces (in order to prevent capture).These self-imposed limits, combined with fuel shortages, drastically decreased the potential tactical impact of Soviet forces. There have been claims that Soviet pilots shot down 1,300 American aircraft in combat over North Korea, including about 200 U.S. B-29 “Flying Fortress” bombers, and that Soviet losses consisted of 135 pilots and more than 300 airplanes. Some scholars consider these Soviet figures "shamelessly inflated." [1]


After Stalin’s death on 5 March 1953, the Soviets changed their view and began to seek an end to hostilities.[2] After the war the Soviet-North Korean relations went up and down as North Korea tried to be independent from both the Soviet Union and China. In the immediate post-war period, relations improved and North Korea became a Stalinist state. The two countries developed cultural economic and scientific cooperation. Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans were educated in the USSR.


Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev’s secret speech at the CPSU Twentieth Congress in February 1956 shocked DPRK politics. The DPRK delegation to the Congress was headed by Choe Yonggeon rather than Kim Il Sung. Kim explained to Ivanov that he could not go to Moscow at that time because he was busy preparing for the KWP Third Congress which would begin 23 April.[3]

In the beginning of April 1956, the Soviet Foreign Ministry sent a report “On the Cult of Personality in the DPRK” to all members of the Soviet leadership. The cult of Kim Il Sung was continuing, the report stated, even though it had been pointed out to Kim in May 1955, when the DPRK leader had visited Moscow.[4]

In order to resolve contentious issues directly with the Soviet leadership, Kim Il Sung made a two-month visit beginning in June 1956, to the USSR, East Germany, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Albania, Poland, and Mongolia, accompanied by some thirty compatriots. Once Kim had returned to Pyongyang on 2 August, the CPSU warned the Korean leader to correct the mistakes of the KWP.[5] The Soviet embassy was watching the political process with unease and alarm. For his part, Kim Il Sung was afraid that his opponents would capitalize on the CPSU intervention, though he admitted their oppositional activities had waned by the middle of August.[6]

Observing the growing tensions within the DPRK, the CPSU Presidium discussed the North Korean issue on 6 September 1956. Mikoyan chaired in Khrushchev’s absence, with Malenkov, Kaganovich, Voroshilov, Suslov, Ponomarev, Brezhnev and Gromyko in attendance. The Soviet leaders heard Ivanov’s reports on the KWP’s August Plenum. They concluded that Boris Ponomarev, head of the Department for Relations with Foreign Communist Parties, should consult with the DPRK ambassador, and the Soviet delegation to the 8th Congress of the CCP, scheduled for that month, should consult with the Koreans in attendance in Beijing.[7]

By late 1962 Soviet-North Korean relations soured as Pyongyang joined China in openly criticizing Soviet “revisionism”. Chinese-North Korean nuclear cooperation in the military sphere was one disturbing possibility for the Soviet Union. The Chinese could perhaps even benefit from North Korea’s uranium deposits, which had been identified with the help of Soviet geological teams first sent to North Korea in November/December 1945 to search for uranium, which Moscow badly needed for the Soviet atom bomb project.[8]

By 1963, the inhabitants of the huge Soviet Embassy compound in downtown Pyongyang felt that they were under siege. All their communications with Koreans were supervised, and most North Koreans who had expressed some sympathy with Moscow had disappeared without a trace. Soviet aid nearly stopped, and most Soviet advisors left the North. On quite a few occasions, the official media of North Korea and Soviet Russia exchanged broadsides of sharply worded critical statements.


But then things changed, dramatically and irreversibly. The anti-Soviet pro-Maoist bloc, clearly in the making in the early 1960s, fell apart in 1966–67 due to the Cultural Revolution. Around the same time, in late 1966, the internal propaganda of North Korea began to criticize “dogmatism” and “superpower chauvinism,” clearly associated with China. Relations reached their nadir in late 1968.


Nevertheless, in the late Gorbachev period, the Soviet Union’s traditional role as the primary trading partner to the DPRK began to erode. This was due in part to president Mikhail Gorbachev’s controversial decision in the late 1980s to convert trade with all Communist Bloc countries, including the DPRK, to a hard currency basis. This decision painfully affected everyone involved, including the Soviet Union and turned out to be one of the first steps toward the North Korean economic crisis of the mid-1990s.[9]

When Edvard Shevardnadze flew to Pyongyang in September 1990 to personally inform the North Koreans that Soviet-ROK diplomatic relations would be established imminently, Kim II Sung flatly refused to meet with him.

During meetings with Shevardnadze, North Korean foreign ministry officials reportedly announced that "without continued Soviet assistance" they would have to "develop their own 'modern' weapons program, turn to others for support, and cease to trust the USSR". The Soviet Foreign Minister is reported to have responded that "the DPRK would of course have to determine what was in its own best interests", although he did warn the North Koreans against trying to develop a nuclear weapons capability.

Russian Federation


Embassy of North Korea in Moscow

After the dissolution of the USSR, Russia under President Boris Yeltsin, North Korea was seen in official Moscow circles almost as unwanted. During this period, Russia was seeking legitimacy and membership in the various clubs of the major democratic powers. Russian policy toward the Korean peninsula was similarly one-sided and featured unilateral rapprochement with the Republic of Korea and maximum estrangement from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

In January 1992, former Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Rogachev visited Pyongyang as President Yeltsin’s special envoy. During his stay, he notified North Korean leaders of Russia’s intention to revise the Soviet-DPRK Treaty of 1961 and urged them to hold an inter-Korean summit and to sign a nuclear safeguards accord with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in accordance with its international obligations.[10]

Russian foreign policy during this period officially focused on the country’s “inevitable removal from the DPRK,” and Russia’s relations with North Korea were effectively frozen. The new liberal elite decided that maintaining ties with a totalitarian regime did not meet Russia’s democratic ideals. For example, Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev stressed in 1996 that Russia was ready to sell armaments to all comers, excluding North Korea.

In late January 1993, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgiy Kunadze traveled to Pyongyang as a special representative of the Russian president. Kunadze's mission was to assist in the establishment of state to state relations, which were to replace communist party relations, the main avenue of collaboration between the two countries since the 1940s, which had broken down by the end of the 1980s. Kunadze met with Kim Yung Nam Vice Premier and Kang Sok Choo (First Deputy Foreign Minister). The Russian succeeded in getting North Korean agreement to strengthen contacts at the foreign ministerial level, and to reestablish the bilateral intergovernmental commission on economic and scientific-technical issues.

The first meeting of the Inter-governmental Commission for Trade, Economic, and Scientific-Technical Cooperation between Russia and DPRK was held in the spring of 1996 led by Deputy Premier Vitali Ignatenko.[11] This was the highest- level meeting (at the deputy prime ministerial level) between Moscow and Pyongyang since the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the visit, the two countries agreed to restore bilateral trade and economic cooperation to its 1991 level. The two sides also agreed to restore bilateral inter-governmental commissions and to establish working-level bodies between North Korea and the Russian Far Eastern province for bilateral cooperation in science-technology, forestry, light industry, and transport. Ignatenko carried Yeltsin's personal message to Kim Jong Il. In the message, Yeltsin expressed his hopes for tension reduction on the Korean peninsula and North Korea’s continuing observance of the Armistice Agreement. Kim Jong Il expecting that Zyuganov, the Communist Party leader, would win the coming presidential election in June–July 1996, did not even send a letter of reply, nor did he meet with the Russian delegation.[12]

In the wake of Ignatenko's trip, in rapid sequence, Moscow and Pyongyang signed a number of bilateral agreements on investment protection, scientific cooperation, and cultural exchanges. On November 28, 1996, DPRK Ambassador to Russia Son Song-Pul and Russian Minister of Economy Yevgeny Yasin signed an agreement on encouragement and mutual protection of investment in Moscow[13]

On December 16, Vice-Director Pak Yong-Hyop of the DPRK National Academy of Sciences and Secretary General N. Aplate of the Russian Academy of Sciences signed an agreement on scientific cooperation and a protocol on 1996–2000 scientific cooperation in Moscow.[14] On December 26, Vice-Chairman Kim Yong-Su of the Korean Committee for Cultural Relations With Foreign Countries and Russian Ambassador to the DPRK Valery Denisov signed an agreement on cultural cooperation in Pyongyang.[15]

On April 26–29, 1996, Genaddy Seleznev, speaker of the Russian State Duma and a communist, led a Russian parliamentary delegation on an official visit to North Korea for the purpose of continuing the Russian government's efforts to normalize bilateral ties. During the visit, representatives from both countries discussed ways to develop relations between the two countries and exchanged views on the present situation on the peninsula.[16]

On November 28, 1996, DPRK Ambassador to Russia Son Song-Pul and Russian Minister of Economy Yevgeny Yasin signed an agreement on encouragement and mutual protection of investment in Moscow[17]

Russian diplomats began to realize that Moscow’s relationship with Pyongyang had to be improved in order to achieve a balanced position on the Korean peninsula. In the fall of 1996, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs from both countries signed a plan covering diplomatic exchange and an agreement on cultural and scientific cooperation for 1997–1998. This agreement became the basis for the conclusion of numerous interdepartmental agreements in the following years.

In May 1997, a Russian parliamentary delegation led by Vladimir Lukin, chairman of the State Duma International Affairs Committee, visited Pyongyang. In June 1997, another Russian delegation led by Mikhail Monastirsky, chairman of the Southeast Asia and Asia-Pacific Area Subcommittee of the Geopolitical Affairs Committee of the State Duma visited Pyongyang for talks with members of DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly.

The second meeting of the inter-governmental commission on trade, economic, scientific and technological cooperation was held in Moscow from October 13 to 15, 1997. The purpose of this meeting was to find ways to resume cooperation in the various fields that had been interrupted since early 1990s. This meeting was considered a framework meeting and is of a consultative and recommendatory character. During the session, the DPRK and Russia signed four documents of an economic nature: three protocols on agricultural cooperation, interaction in the sphere of the veterinary science and a quarantine of plants and the protocol “on economic and technological cooperation".[18]

In February 1999 a DPRK-Russia Goodwill Association delegation, headed by Yi Song-ho, vice chairman of the Committee for Cultural Relations With Foreign Countries, visited Moscow and in March and April a DPRK-Russia goodwill parliamentarian’s delegation visited Russia.

Kim Jong-il with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2000.
Kim Jong-il with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2011.

2000 on

Vladimir Putin’s elevation to Prime Minister in August 1999 and then President in March had critical significance for Pyongyang, which attributed its previous grievances to Boris Yeltsin. Kim Jong Il’s references to Vladimir Putin were to the effect that at last Russia had a leader “with whom to do business.” However, intensive diplomatic hard work had to precede a historical breakthrough in Russia–DPRK relations. These efforts began to bear fruit in late 1998, and by March 1999, it became possible to agree completely on the text and initial new Treaty on Friendship, Good-Neighborly Relations and Cooperation. It was signed in February 2000, after Boris Yeltsin left the political arena.

Starting in April 2000, covert preparations for a visit by President Putin to Pyongyang began. The first summit meeting in the history of Russian-Korean relations took place in July 2000 when a Joint Declaration was signed, the first international document signed by Kim Jong Il as leader of the DPRK.

In April 2002, a delegation from the DPRK’s Main Department for Atomic Energy, headed by its Chief Lee Choi Saeng, visited Moscow, as well as a delegation from the Academy of Sciences, headed by its Vice-President Kang Dong Kyun, who afterwards visited Novosibirsk.

Following North Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT on January 10, 2003 and its decision to suspend participation in the Six-Party Talks on February 10, 2005, official Russian representatives expressed concern, and stated that such actions did not correspond to the goal, supposedly shared by the DPRK, of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

In 2005, the active dialogue and exchange of delegations between the Russian Federation and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the fields of politics, economics, culture, science and technology continued: DPRK representatives took part in Moscow celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War, and in August and October, high-level Russian delegations headed by the Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Representative of the Russian Federation President in Far-East Federal District Pulikovsky attended two different celebrations in Pyongyang commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Korea and the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Workers Party of Korea. On both occasions the Russian delegation was greeted by Kim Jong Il.[19]

Additionally in 2005, the chairman of the State Duma’s Committee for International Affairs, Konstantin Kosachev, visited Pyongyang, St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko paid a visit to North Korea on December 5–6.[20]

During the second half of that year, during which two sessions of the Six-Party Talks took place, including the meeting that produced the September 19 Joint Statement, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister accepted the DPRK Ambassador Pak Ui Chun seven times.[21]

In 2006 Russia supported United Nations Security Council Resolution 1695 in July, condemning 2006 North Korean missile test.

On May 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a presidential decree prohibiting Russian state and government agencies, industrial, commercial, financial and transport companies, and enterprises, firms and banks from exporting or transiting military hardware, equipment, materials, or know-how which could be used in North Korea's nuclear or non-nuclear weapons programs.[22]

On April 2009 Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited North Korea and signed a plan with Mun Jae Chol, acting chairman of the Korean Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries on 2009–2010 of cultural and scientific exchange.

After the North Korean nuclear test on 25 May 2009, North Korea's relations with China and Russia were taken to a different level. Russia, fearing that North Korea's success could lead to a nuclear war, joined China, France, Japan, South Korea, United Kingdom, and the United States in starting a resolution that could include new sanctions. The Russian news agencies were outraged when North Korea even threatened to attack neighboring South Korea after it joined a U.S. led plan to check vessels suspected of carrying equipment for weapons of mass destruction. Another concern was that the nuclear test can be a threat to the security of Russia's far east regions which border North Korea. South Korean president Lee Myung-bak had a phone conversation with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, where Medvedev advised him that Russia will work with Seoul on a new U.N. Security Council resolution and to revive international talks on the North Korean nuclear issue.

On 15 June 2009, China and Russia have supported the UN sanctions on North Korea. However, the two countries stressed that it did not gain the use of force. Permanent Representative of Russia to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin insisted that any sanctions should be lifted once North Korea cooperates. Also, On March 30, 2010, President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree implementing intensified United Nations Security Council sanctions against Pyongyang's nuclear programs. The presidential decree banned the purchase of weapons and relevant materials from the DPRK by government offices, enterprises, banks, organizations and individuals currently under Russia's jurisdiction. It also prohibited the transit of weapons and relevant materials via Russian territory or their export to the DPRK. Any financial aid and educational training that might facilitate North Korea's nuclear program and proliferation activities were also forbidden.[23]

In December 2010 the North Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs visited Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart, Lavrov, in what was seen as North Korean trying to control criticism about its attack on South Korea's Yeonpyeong island. Lavrov told the North Korean official that Pyongyang's November 23 artillery strike on Yeonpyeong island "resulted in loss of life" and "deserves condemnation."

There had been increasing DPRK-Russian interactions in the weeks prior to Kim Jong Il visit to Russia on August 2011[24]: On 26 July, the Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries hosted a “friendship meeting” which commemorated KJI’s 2001 trip to the Federation and “the adoption of the DPRK-Russia Moscow Declaration.” On 28 July, in a commemoration of the same event, an exhibition was opened at the Pyongyang Center for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries. At the same time, two documentary films about Kim Russian trips were screened at Taedongmun Cinema in Pyongyang. On 14 August DPRK media reported that KJI received a telegram from Medvedev on the occasion of the Korean Peninsula’s liberation that said:

“History has proved the solidity of friendship between the people of our two countries. We are willing to expand cooperation with the DPRK in all directions of mutual interest, including a trilateral plan among Russia, the DPRK and the ROK in the fields of gasification, energy, and railway construction.”


On Wednesday 24, 2011 the two leaders met on a hotel in the town of Sosnovy Bor near Ulan Ude and agreed on a deal for a gas export pipeline to South Korea and on North Korea's return to nuclear talks without precondition.[26]

On October 18, 2011 Russian and North Korean officials have marked the 63rd anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic ties in an event at the North Korean embassy in Moscow. The evening’s event was attended by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin.[27]


Russia and North Korea share a 17km border with Tumen River sepearates between them. The border created in 1860 when Russia got lands from China. Throughout the time there was need to re-demarcate the border due to the changing terrian of the Tumen River. USSR and North Korea signed an agreement on 22/01/1986 to demarcate their border and then again in 03/09/1991.[28] Between 2000 and 2003 The North Korea conducted a joint topographical survey on terrain changes between, which confirmed floods eroded part of both territories and washed away most of boundary markers set up after the 1991 agreement. In November 3 1998, Russia and North Korea, alongside with China signed a treaty in Pyongyang to clearly demarcate their territorial waters on the Tumen River, which borders the three countries.[29] On 9/02/2004 deputy minister of foreign affairs Alexandr Losukov and North Korean ambassador Pak Yi Chun signed a new protocol between Russian government and North Korean government about state border demarcation. To prevent further erosion, Russia planted willows along the river in 2003 and has built a 13-kilometer bank, spending approximately 11 billion won since 2005.[30]

Economic relations

After the Korean War, the Soviet Union emerged as the main trading partner and sponsor of North Korea. Ninety three North Korean factories were built with Russian technical assistance, forging the country’s heavy-industrial backbone. In 1988, at the peak of the bilateral relationship, about 60% of North Korea’s trade was with the Soviet Union. Much of the trade was in raw materials and petroleum that Moscow provided to Pyongyang at concessional prices. The economic reforms in Russia and the end of the Cold War greatly reduced the priority of the DPRK in the strategy of Russian foreign policy. Relations between the two cooled seriously in the 1990s as Russia recognized South Korea, announced that trade with North Korea was to be conducted in hard currencies, and opted out of its bilateral defense agreement. Trade turnover between the two states had dropped from US$1 billion, during the peak of the Soviet-DPRK trade in the late 1980s, to $1.97 billion in 1990 and to $0.58 billion in 1991; in 1993, export levels had declined to a mere 10% of its previous contributions. By 1999 the number stood at US$80 million. In 1989, 830,000 tons of freight passed through the border from Russia (Khasan) to North Korea (Tumangang). By 1998 this number stood at 150,000 tons.[31]

Major Russian exports to the DPRK include mineral fuels, wood and pulp, fertilizers, ships/boats, and iron/steel. The large increase in 2003 came mostly in refined oil (total exports of mineral fuel oil jumped from $20 million in 2002 to $96 million in 2003). Pyongyang had to turn to Russia for petroleum, as supplies of fuel oil from the United States, Japan, and South Korea were curtailed as the six-party talks bogged down. During 2000–2005, trade grew from US$105 million to US$172.3 million, an increase of 64%. The value of Russian exports for the first nine months of 2005 reached US$168.7 million, while imports were estimated at US$3.6 million. Russia’s main export items were, oil products (63%), ferrous metal and steel production (8%), and machinery and equipment (8%). Major Russian imports from North Korea include machinery, electrical machinery, tools/cutlery, and railroad equipment. Russian exports of grains to North Korea was no more than 890 tons in 2002, but increased to 1,070 tons (mainly wheat) in 2003, and to 34,716 tons ($5.31 million) in 2004. In 2005, however, there were no Russian grain export to the North again. The Kremlin's approval of international sanctions against the former communist ally was accompanied by the curtailment of trade with the North. At the time of North Korea’s nuclear test in October, 2006, Russia published trade statistics only from January to March, 2006, and Russia’s exports of petroleum products to the North, compared to the same period of the previous year, drastically decreased by 91.1 percent (6,092 tons), while exports of food grains remained zero. Because of the nuclear test, Russia’s total exports to the North are likely to sharply decline.

In response to the famine stricken North Korea in the mid 90s, Russia delivered humanitarian aid to North Korea twice in 1997: food and medicine, worth 4.5 billion “old” Rubles, in the fall, and 370 tones of sugar, canned meat, fish and milk worth 3.5 billion rubles, in December.[32]

In 2008, Russia delivered oil and food to North Korea only in accordance with its obligations associated with the progress at the Six-Party Talks. This year, Russia has already delivered 100,000 tons of fuel oil to the DPRK in two batches and, according to the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin, a top Russian envoy to the Six-Party Talks, will deliver another 100,000 tons by October 2008.[33] In June 2008, the Russian government announced that it would provide 2,860 tons of flour to the DPRK. According to the official KCNA news agency report, this food aid arrived at the border city of Sinuiju in the DPRK's Northern Pyongan Province in early July 2008.[34]

In 2007, for the first time in the post-Soviet era, North Korea saw a major Russian investment: In the city of Pyongsong the Russian auto plant Kamaz opened its first assembly line, specialising in the production of medium-size trucks named "Tebaeksan-96". Although less than 50 trucks were assembled in 2007 this cooperation became an important milestone in the development of bilateral relations. While the project doesn't violate United Nations sanctions on North Korea, it shows Moscow's drive to expand its influence in the country.[35]

On 19.8.2011 ahead of Kim Jong il visit to Russia, the Kremlin said that it was providing food assistance, including some 50,000 tons of wheat.[36]. Few days after Kim's visit the presidential envoy to Russia's Far East Viktor Ishayev, said wheat deliveries will begin via the town border of Khasan in September.

A week later A Russian economic delegation, led by Minister of Regional Development Viktor Basargin, was in North Korea to sign "a protocol of the 5th Meeting of the North Korea-Russia Intergovernmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology"[37] Also on same day, Also on Friday, the North's premier, Choe Yong-rim, met with the Russian economic delegation at the Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang.

On early September 2011 it was reported that North Korea was planning to rent several hundred thousand hectares of land in the Amur Oblast, which has about 200,000 hectares of idle land in regional, municipal or private ownership.[38]

However, of the overall bilateral economic trade between Russia and North Korea, 80% consists of cooperation and investment between North Korea and Russian regional areas. The most active regions are Siberia and the Far East, mainly the Kemerovo, Magadan and Primorski regions.

Labor trade

North Korea’s export of labor to Russia dates to the Soviet era, when prisoners were used in logging compounds that were run entirely by North Korean security forces. In 1995 the North Korean and Russian governments renewed the treaty that had lapsed in 1993 under which North Korea would supply 15,000–20,000 loggers to work off Soviet-era debts. A variety of other North Korean enterprises have subsequently entered the business of providing contract labor in logging and the construction sector in Vladivostok.[39]

In 2004, the Russia Federal Immigration Service issued in 14,000 licenses for the employment of North Korean laborers in Russia. Following strong demand from local companies, just in 2006 regional authorities of Primorsky Krai agreed to issue extra 5,000 working visas to North Koreans.[40]

year 1990 1992 1996 1997 2000 2001
trade turnover (million$) 2600 600 65 90 105 115


North Korea owns a debt to Russia. In the second meeting of the inter-governmental commission on trade, economic, scientific and technological cooperation, North Korea for the first time officially pledged to repay its debts to Moscow, and the parties signed an agreement in principle to resolve the debt problem.[41]

On Wednesday 24.8 Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak said Russian President Medvedev and Kim Jong-il reached a "common approach" on Pyongyang's Soviet-era debts. He also said that North Korea should first recognize Russia as a successor state of the Soviet Union. Then the two states need to recalculate the sum of the loan, which was issued in Soviet rubles at the exchange rate of 0.6 rubles per $1, and Only then the two countries may launch negotiations "on how to repay the resulting sum".[42]

Military relations

There is an exchange of Defense Ministry delegations on the basis of an agreement signed back in 1992. The economic and political reforms taking place in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in 1989 produced a shift in relations with North Korea. Naval exercises with the Soviet Union were stopped in 1990.[43]

After dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia resumed military supplies to the DPRK, underlining the fact that North Korea is a member of the United Nations, enjoying equal rights and not subject to any sanctions; therefore, no legal obstacles exist to commercial deliveries of arms and weapons. At the same time, officials point out that Russia can only supply weapons to meet the defensive requirements of Pyongyang (not offensive), and only on the basis of commercial profitability (and taking into consideration the overall security situation in the Far East).

Throughout the 1990s, North Korea tried illegally to recruit missile and nuclear experts from Russia (and other former Soviet republics). In November 1993, North Korean Major General and Counselor at the North Korean embassy in Moscow, Nam Gye-bok was expelled from the embassy for attempting to recruit Russian scientists to work in North Korea.[44]

A report in January 1994 on Russia’s decision to sell 12 de-commissioned submarines to Pyongyang attracted much attention. The submarines were to be sold as scrap metal at $276,000 for a total of 2,126 tons ($130 a ton) to North Korea, and ten of which were Golf II class equipped with three SSN-5 ballistic missiles. It was feared that North Korea might use parts of the Golf II class submarines for its missile program.[45]

Asked in 1997 if Russia gave priority to North or South Korea in military trade, Russian Foreign Minister Primakov responded: “Why should we give priorities? We are prepared to and do cooperate with everybody”. He further added: “It (arms sales) keeps much of our (military) industry afloat, makes payment of wages possible and helps the social spheres".[46]

In October 1998, officers of Khasan Customs Office on the Russian-DPRK border detained five Mi-8T military helicopters that were prepared for a flight to the DPRK. The helicopters were without any weapons and aircraft identification device, and the export document was without any signatures of the Russian government and military authorities.[47] Investigation revealed that Russian military personnel sold each helicopter to a middleman- firm Arden in the Khabarovsk, for 60,000 to 100,000 Rubles at an official military sale at a Moscow auction. Examination of the helicopters also revealed that all the weapons control systems on board remained intact, although they should have been dismantled.[48]

On April 26–28, 2001, North Korean Defense Minister Vice-Marshal Kim Il-chol visited Moscow, a deal on bilateral cooperation in the defense industry and military equipment was signed. During Kim's visit, the two governments also signed a so-called "framework intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the military industry" and a deal between the two defense ministries.

In October 2002, a delegation from the DPRK’s Ministry of People’s Military, headed by the Deputy Chief of the Ministry of People’s Military Lee Men Su, visited the Russian Federation. At the beginning of November that year a delegation from the Korean People's Air Force, headed by its commander Oh Kum Chul, visited Russia.

On August 22–26, 2011, while North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was in Russia’s Far East to meet President Medvedev Admiral Konstantin Sidenko commander of the Russia's Eastern Military District visited Pyongyang. According to the press release, the sides discussed the future of cooperation between their Ground Troops, the possibility of conducting joint exercises and training for naval, and also the issue of providing assistance to civilians during natural disasters.

On October 20, 2011 the Korean People's Navy commander of the East Sea (of Japan) fleet visited Vladivostok. Senior Vice Admiral Kim Myong Sik met with senior officials of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, in addition to visiting other areas in the vicinity. Kim’s meeting focused on finalizing preparations for a visit by a DPRK vessel to visit Vladivostok in November, as well as discussing a joint naval drill between the two countries. In Pyongyang, Oleg Kozhemyako met with DPRK Premier Choe Yong-rim on wednesday 19 October and attended a dinner with Kim Jong Il.[49]

The nuclear issue

Russia stands firmly behind a peaceful resolution of the crisis, achieved through diplomacy and negotiation. Russia point out that any attempt to coerce North Korea using sanctions and force will not change North Korea’s behavior but will only heighten tensions on the Korean peninsula. Moscow holds that the tensions on the Korean peninsula should be resolved through political dialogue and peaceful means.[50]

North Korea has attempted to smuggle Russian nuclear and missile specialists into its country. On December 8, 1992, thirty-six Russian nuclear and missile specialists were detained by Russian security agents at the Moscow Airport shortly before their departure for Pyongyang. These specialists had been hired by North Korea at monthly salaries of $1,500--$3,000 to help North Korean nuclear weapon program.[51]

Differences over the issue of the IAEA inspection of two suspected nuclear waste sites in North Korea led to heightened tensions in Korea and in Northeast Asia in 1993. North Korea announced its plan to withdraw from the NPT in 1993 in defiance of mounting international pressure to fully renounce its nuclear weapons program. The LWRs project between Russia and North Korea discontinued in April 1993, when President Boris Yeltsin signed a presidential decree suspending the project in the midst of heightened tensions following North Korea's anno uncement to withdraw from the NPT. At the same time, Russia discontinued its nuclear assistance to North Korea, which entailed an abrupt halt to personnel training, supplying of nuclear fuel and exchange of nuclear specialists.[52]

In March 1994 during the first North Korean nuclear crisis, Russia, emphasizing its position as a member of Northeast Asia, proposed the eight-party talks, which included participants from North and South Korea, Russia, the U.S, China, Japan, the IAEA and the UN Secretary General.[53]

Since 2002 Russia and North Korea have participated in the six-party talks. Just as the U.S excluded Russia from the four-party talks in 1994, the U.S left out Russia and tried to expand the three-party talks into a five-party talks that included North and South Korea, U.S, China, and Japan. Because of Russia’s active efforts as a moderator, North Korea insisted on Russia’s joining the talks, and the U.S accepted it.[54]

On the second crisis, bursted in 2002 Russia continued to call for a balanced reaction, and the official position on this issue became clear when Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov met with Canadian Maurice Strong, top UN envoy for North Korea, in March 2003. Ivanov emphasized that Russia’s proposal for the “package deal” is the only solution to the crisis and insisted that the international community maintain a “cautious and balanced approach”. Emphasis was put on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through North Korea’s observation of the NPT and acceptance of the IAEA’s inspections, and on peaceful political-diplomatic resolution of the crisis through direct US-North Korean talks rather than on a military approach.[55]

Russia carried out a large-scale military exercise in August 18–27, 2003, that was performed under a state of emergency in the Russia Far East in order to gauge the ability to absorb an influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees in case of war.[56]

In October 2006 Russia supported United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718 condemning North Korea’s nuclear test.

After North Korea detonated another nuclear weapon on 25 May 2009 The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a sharp note of condemnation; The statement called the test a “violation” of previous Security Council resolutions and a “serious blow” to the nuclear nonproliferation regime. It also complained that “the latest DPRK moves are provoking an escalation of tension in Northeast Asia.”[57]

Educational relations

During the 2000–2001 academic year, the Russian Ministry of Education allocated 10 state scholarships for North Korea, and in the 2001–2002 academic year, this number jumped to 35. Russian students presently study at the Pyongyang Conservatoire and Pedagogic (Normal) University.

A number of exchange agreements were signed in 2001, including an agreement on scientific cooperation between the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Sciences of the DPRK; a contract on cooperation between the Pushkin State Institute of Russian Language and the Pyongyang Institute of Foreign Languages; an agreement on cooperation in the fields of science, technology and education between the Far-Eastern State Technical University and Pyongyang Kim Chaek Polytechnic University; and an agreement between the Moscow State University and Kim Il-Sung University.[58]

In August 2004, in Moscow, the president of the DPRK Academy of Sciences signed a new cooperation agreement with the Russian Academy of Sciences. Both the Ensemble of Folk Dance under Moiseev and the Ensemble of Folk Singing and Dancing of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation visited Pyongyang twice that year, and again, Kim Jong Il attended each performance. North Korean interest in the study of the Russian language was confirmed by the stunning success of a team of North Korean middle school pupils, who won almost all the prizes at the June 2004 Russian Language International Competition organized by the Pushkin Institute.[59]

Pro-North Korea lobby in Russia

Among such lobbyists are functionaries of the CPRF, who see in the DPRK an ideological friend. In many cases, admiration of North Korea is not real but rather dictated by hopes of personal gain: Some are directly bribed or financed by the North Korean government.[citation needed] Others are engaged in economic cooperation with counterparts in the DPRK. Lobbyists also enjoy the red-carpet treatment they get while visiting North Korea.[citation needed] In providing propaganda for North Korea, Russian lobbyists advance the following arguments in the media and various gatherings, including parliamentary sessions:[60]

  • North Koreans possess admirable traits of character: generosity, patriotism, and allegiance to their chosen principles.
  • Russia and Korea have historically never been at war with each other.
  • The North Korean economy, despite all its shortcomings, is connected to the Russian economy. The DPRK requires huge quantities of Russian technology, equipment, and spare parts. In turn, it is ready to supply Russia with various raw materials. If Moscow chooses the correct policy, Russian-North Korean trade could immediately jump. In a long-term perspective, North Korea could become a much more valuable partner than South Korea because Seoul developed its economy in isolation from Russia (and the Soviet Union) and is oriented to other markets.
  • It is wrong to say that Pyongyang rejects changes in its practical policies. While holding to a firm and time-proven basis of "juche", the North Korean leadership is making determined efforts to update its economic policy to correspond with present-day realities.
  • Kim Jong-il is the recognized leader of the DPRK in ideology, politics, and economics. It is only thanks to him that after the death of Kim Il-sung the Korean Peninsula has not been turned into a battlefield much more destructive than the war in the former Yugoslavia.
  • There are some economic difficulties in the DPRK. But the main reasons for them are extremely bad weather and a shortage of raw materials, spare parts, and marketing opportunities for the plants and factories built in the past by the Soviet Union. However, North Koreans are quite optimistic and are determined to overcome these difficulties.


  1. ^ The Cold War and Soviet Insecurity By Vojtěch Mastný, American Council of Learned Societies
  2. ^ “Council of Ministers USSR Resolution of 19 March 1953, No. 858-372cc, Moscow, Kremlin”, in “Cold War International History Project”
  3. ^ Diary of soviet ambassador V. I. Ivanov from 8 Feb. to 27 March 1956
  4. ^ On the Cult of Personality in DPRK, RGANI, Fond 5, Opis
  5. ^ Ibid, l. 336
  6. ^ Ibid, l. 342
  7. ^ Presidium of the Central Committee of the CPSU 1954–64
  8. ^ Atomnyi Proekt SSSR: Dokumenty i Materially, Vol. 2, Book 2, 394
  9. ^ Vorontsov, Alexander. "CURRENT RUSSIA – NORTH KOREA RELATIONS: CHALLENGES AND ACHIEVEMENTS". The Brookings Institution. Retrieved 2 November 2011. 
  10. ^ Yonhap January 28, 1992
  11. ^ Moscow and Pyongyang agreed to establish the intergovernmental commission for economic and technological-scientific affairs in May 1991 and scheduled its first meeting for October 1992 in Pyongyang. Its first meeting, however, materialized three and a half years later than originally scheduled
  12. ^ Choson Ilbo, April 12, 1996
  13. ^ Pyongyang KCNA, December 2, 1996
  14. ^ Pyongyang KCNA, December 22, 1996
  15. ^ Pyongyang KCNA, December 26, 1996
  16. ^ Voice of Russia World Service, May 29, 1996
  17. ^ Pyongyang KCNA, December 2, 1996, in FBIS-EAS-96-232
  18. ^ Vladimir Nadashkevich, ITAR-TASS, October 14, 1997
  19. ^, February 6, 2006
  20. ^ RIA Novosti, December 5, 2005
  21. ^, July–December 2005
  22. ^ RIA Novosti- Russia makes U-turn, joins UN sanctions against N.Korea
  23. ^ Asia Times, Russia and the North Korean Knot
  24. ^ NK Watch, 20.8.2011, KJI Arrives in Siberia
  25. ^ NK Watch, 20.8.2011, KJI Arrives in Siberia
  26. ^ N.Korea agrees gas pipeline deal and return to nuclear talks, Ulan-Ude, August 24, 2011 RIA Novosti
  27. ^ RIA Nvosoti, October 19, 2011
  28. ^ Anderson, Ewan W. (2003). International Boundaries: A Geopolitical Atlas. Routledge: New York. 10-ISBN 157958375X/13-ISBN 9781579583750; OCLC 54061586
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  30. ^ Koo, Min Gyu. (2010). Disputes and Maritime Regime Building in East Asia. Dordrecht: Springer. 10-ISBN 1441962239/13-ISBN 9781441962232; OCLC 626823444
  31. ^ James Moltz, The North Korean Nuclear Program: Security, Strategy and New Perspectives from Russia, 1999
  32. ^ ITAR-TASS, March 7, 1998
  33. ^ Yonhap News, "Russia to Send More Fuel Oil to N.K. by October: Report", Seoul (08 July 2008)
  34. ^ Xinhua "Russian Food Aid Arrives in DPRK" (08 July 2008)
  35. ^ L.Petrov, "Russia's 'Power Politics' and North Korea"
  36. ^ Washington Post, August 22, NKorea’s Kim may stop at another Russian city to look at oil pipeline
  37. ^ Yonhap news agency site- Korean Central News Agency
  38. ^ RIA Novosti, September 1, 2011
  39. ^ Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland, North Korea’s External Economic Relations
  40. ^ 'Pyongyang offers slaves in exchange for Russian oil'
  41. ^ Korea Times, October 17, 1997, p. 1; Alexei Filatov, "Russia, North Korea Sign Four Economic Accords," ITAR-TASS, October 16, 1997
  42. ^ Russian, North Korean leaders agree on Soviet debt plan, Ulan-Ude, August 24 RIA Novosti
  43. ^ North Korea-Relations with China and the Soviet Union FOREIGN MILITARY RELATIONS,
  44. ^ D. Ivanov, "Severnaya Koreya okhotitsya za voennymi sekretami", Nezavisimaya Gazeta, January 12, 1994
  45. ^ Vladimir B. Yakubovsky “Economic Relations between Russia and DPRK,” Korea and World Affairs, Vol. 20, NO. 3, (Fall 1996), p. 462.
  46. ^ Interfax, July 24, 1997
  47. ^ The Korea Times, October 8, 1998
  48. ^ Yevgeniya Lents, ITAR-TASS, October 14, 1998, in FBIS-SOV-98-287; Boris Reznik, “How a Combat Squadron was Stolen,” Izvestia, October 30, 1998
  49. ^ 27/10/2011, KJI Meets with Le Keqiang, NK Leadership Watch blog
  50. ^ Moscow Voice of Russia World Service in Korean 1200 GMT 27 Jul 1999
  51. ^ KBS-1 Radio network in Korean, December 20, 1992, in FBIS-EAS-92-245, December 21, 1992, p. 32
  52. ^ Shim Jae Hoon, "Korea: Silent Partner," Far Eastern Economic Review, December 29 & January 5, 1995, p. 14
  53. ^ Valentin Moiseev, “On the Korean Settlement” International Affairs (Moscow) 43, no. 3 (1997)
  54. ^ Segyeilbo, June 14, 2003.
  55. ^ “O vizite v Moskve Spetsial’nogo poslannika General’nogo Sekretaria OON po KNDR M. Stronga,” Press Release of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russian Federation, no. 546-06-03-2003 (March 6, 2003)
  56. ^ Oleg Zhunusov, and Dmitrii Litovkin, “This Is Legend: A State of Emergency Has Been Introduced,” Izvestiia, August 22, 2003
  57. ^ "FM: Russia urges DPRK to demonstrate responsibility". People's Daily Online. 2009-05-25. Retrieved 2009-05-25. 
  58. ^ Current Russia-North Korea relations: Challenges and Achievments
  59. ^ Current Russia-North Korea relations: Challenges and Achievments
  60. ^ joint project between the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (Monterey Institute of International Studies, Monterey, California, USA) and the Institute for Contemporary International Problems (ICIP) (located at the Diplomatic Academy, Moscow, Russia).

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