Country Report: Russia (November 2019)

China was on Russian minds the most, relegating the Korean Peninsula to second among Asian interests. On the one hand, Putin’s announcement of Russia transferring its missile defense apparatus to China set the tone for optimistic pronouncements of an upgrading of strategic relations, even if the term “alliance” was not in the official lexicon. Some foresaw an alliance, even an integrated missile defense system taking shape. On the other hand, talk of China struggling with new challenges also became pronounced in the less conservative media. The legacy of the Soviet model and its own historical record did not bode well when Xi Jinping was boosting authoritarianism and socialist ideology. Critiques may have served a purpose similar to that of Soviet writings on China in the first half of the 1980s, casting indirect doubt on domestic shortcomings.

Putting Sino-Russian relations in the context of growing confrontation with the United States leaves no ambiguity about the rationale for ever closer military ties, but situating them in the rubric of Greater Eurasia raises questions about how other Asian countries would respond or if a community comparable to the trans-Atlantic community could take shape. Suggestions that a parallel exists between past resistance to the Soviet Union and current resistance to the US, and that the rising role of China is reminiscent of the US role in the 1950s, support claims that a community is emerging in Greater Eurasia. Yet, much is omitted from this argument, e.g., the rise of anti-Chinese sentiments in Central Asia, discussed in the case of Kazakhstan. Another theme drawing notice is Sino-Russian cooperation in the Arctic, in light of China’s plans for an increased role there, which does not lead to pushback despite raising questions.

Coverage of North Korea ranges widely but mostly is sympathetic. Trump is blamed for his handling of South Korea as well as the North. Russian ambassadors to both Koreas weigh in on what should be done to resolve the tensions on the peninsula. Missing is real interest in North Korea’s thinking, as if it is a reactive force. Attention shifts quickly to the regional security implications of resolving the existing tensions. Despite complaints of North Korean boats fishing in Russian waters and crews resisting arrest and mention of socialism standing in the way of recognition of markets, unlike in China, hope is raised for bilateral relations.


On September 29 Sergei Tsyplakov in Nezavisimaya Gazeta focused on the discrepancy between the rising international ambitions of China and its realistic political and economic possibilities, warning that as it reaches its 70th anniversary it is in danger of being blown off course. While optimism prevailed as recently as the party congress in 2017—when Xi Jinping presided in triumph, and in the March 2018 proclamation of a new epoch with Xi no longer burdened by term limits—Chinese leaders and propaganda have switched to talk of difficult times. Many basic questions have been left unresolved as the authoritarian-boss model of state management is revived, the old extensive model of development is no longer working, and Xi has forsaken past awareness that only market mechanisms would allow for a qualitative advance. The gap in development of theoretical scientific research and critical technologies with the West remains. The rise of domestic demand is slow; people are still struggling with low incomes rising slower than GDP, high tax burdens, and steep prices for real estate and medical and educational services. The state sector grows ever stronger, as “economic champions” are favored and private firms stifled. Into the picture enters the start of a trade war with the US, leading China to shift priorities to stimulate the economy once again. The switch from Deng’s “lie low” dictum occurred too quickly, leaving a gap between international ambitions and real possibilities, as seen in BRI and excessive debts for China and other countries. India was not attracted to it, and Russia, despite abstract support, is on the fence, while China cannot formulate clear objectives for its initiative. Massive protests in Hong Kong and tensions with Taiwan reflect distrust in the “China Dream,” and the fading of China’s image globally. The harsh attempts of the West to constrain China’s rise defy Chinese hopes to modernize with more or less neutral relations with the West and leave no doubt that, over the long term, China has to face growing opposition. Contending with the legacy of the Soviet model and its own historical state traditions complicates the new epoch.

In Ogonek on October 14 Dmitry Kozyrev wrote that China should be afraid of only itself. With so many achievements, what could undermine China? The US and the trade war? Hardly, even if they could delay China becoming the world’s first economy. Militarily, with the acquisition of Russia’s advanced warning system of a rocket attack, China is more secure. While American researchers have an illusion that without democracy China cannot catch up, their comments on entering a “neo-Maoist moment” remind us that today in Russia, many Brezhnevites have appeared, not having lived through the age of stagnation (or worse). The situation is compounded in China by a leftist ideology, determined not to repeat the sad experience of the collapse of the USSR and refusing to acknowledge that the great successes celebrated are not from 70 years of the PRC but from the past 40 years in spite of Mao’s ideas and practices. Following an absolutely non-communist course but preserving the external face of the past, China is talking of including “social ratings” in credit ratings for everyone, which would be used for everything. This idea is pure Maoism. Leftists from the time of the French Revolution considered it necessary to change the people—a cultural revolution—which has always failed catastrophically. Referring to conferences in Moscow on the 70th anniversary, Kozyrev points to observations of experiments under way in 30 Chinese cities, as some leaders stand in opposition to a threat more dangerous to the system than is the US, which also is undergoing a leftist revolution undermining social relations. A competition may ensue between the two if the rebirth of Maoism proceeds.

Aleksandr Gabuev and Igor’ Denisov in the Moscow Carnegie Center report of November 5 challenged those in the West who suggest that Xi Jinping’s power is diminished, arguing on the contrary that all signs point to it strengthening. Reflecting on the fourth plenum of the CCP, they find no changes that indicate Xi is losing his grip. The party leadership’s view of how the Soviet Union and its party elite collapsed reinforces the argument that China must bolster the party’s role under greater control by its leader, called the fifth modernization, or else all that has been achieved under reform could collapse. “Power vertical” is the model, not gradual weakening of control over society, with separate plans for 2021, 2035, and 2049. Yet, the authors see long-term problems from a narrow group of rulers paralyzing the will of the bureaucracy and preventing mechanisms from working to correct any incorrect decisions. How can China position itself, readers are asked, as the true defender of globalization when it becomes so closed the outside world can only guess at the course of its future political development? This is its real problem, not political dissent.

In MKRU on September 30, “China in 2035” was discussed, a time between 2021 and 2049 in China’s planning, when “socialist modernization” will be completed. Growth will have slowed due to reorientation to the domestic market and the “cold war” with the US, but the GDP may have doubled. The socialist and capitalist sectors of the economy will coexist with little change in their balance. The party will be a “supercomputer” in control. Xi Jinping will, at 82, be influential like Deng Xiaoping after he left his post. Socialist values will return, as in housing allocations with aims such as boosting the birthrate. The fight against pollution will prove effective. Nationalist emotions will rise, proclaiming the superiority of “Chinese wisdom” over European wisdom, unless far-sighted rule obtains. The yuan will be the world currency rather than the dollar. China and Russia will have concluded a new, long-term treaty, proclaiming a joint response to nuclear attack with unprecedented coordination of armed forces. Traces of distrust will be gone, as in economic and scientific cooperation. US containment of China will intensify, but it will only slow, not stop China’s rise. In contrast to the above articles doubting China prospects, this confident conclusion is in keeping with calls to hitch Russia’s wagon to the inexorable rise of the superpower.

Sino-Russian relations

Andrei Torin in Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn’ on September 29 discussed the spheres of   cooperation between Russia and China in a changing world. Sergei Luzianin noted that trade has risen 27 percent from 2017 to $108 billion with $200 billion the target for 2024, that in December the “Force of Siberia” gas line and auto and railway bridges across the Amur at Blagoveshchensk and Nizhneleninskoe will open, and that on the Korean problem and the docking of the EEU and BRI positions are shared. He indicated that a new military-technical agreement is coming soon to promote stability in the face of challenges from the US. Most important, Aleksei Maslov is cited pointing to maximal closeness between the peoples of Russia and China, not only economic and political ties, parallel to what he calls the very close ties of the 1950s when they understood each other well. More than 180 universities (about 20 percent of the total) teach Chinese to 60-80,000 students, as interest in China’s culture and history is booming. More than 20,000 Chinese and Russian students study in each other’s country. Including short-term stays, 90,000 are in exchanges. Each side belongs to an autonomous civilization, and such ties bring mutual trust, which will ensure that no thoughts of competition can interfere ahead. A Chinese expert is cited as saying the two sides’ economic and cultural ties are complementary, while adding that if lessons of history can be correctly drawn, the two can realize the BRI and EEU projects. Reference is made to the joint communique of June on a strategic partnership for a new era, providing a new stimulus for relations, which a Chinese source insists are equal, not as in the past which caused problems. One recent achievement is the agreement to use each other’s global navigation system—2 of the 4 operating around the world, including the US GPS and the European system—with stations to be located in each other’s country.

On October 24 in Valdai, Timofei Bordachev compared Chinese and Russian ways of looking at certain world problems, noting first that the fact Moscow is helping China with prevention of rocket attacks is one more proof of the new quality of strategic relations as some Russians are talking about an alliance. Yet, he sees essential differences in their strategic cultures and the basis of their long-term goal setting, which it would not be far-sighted to deny. Unlike the situation in the 1990s when Russia and Europe could not agree on a single strategic vision of the future, China and Russia do not see each other as a pupil to persuade, but there is still a problem in moving on to the next stage of relations beyond effectively opposing the order the US and its allies sought to build. The two have not yet found a common vision of the new order, as seen in joint discussions, such as at the annual Valdai conference in late September and early October. The closer the ties, the greater the demand for mutual understanding. In China’s past, contacts were largely kept within one, Chinese civilization not accustomed to the process of establishing independent sovereign entities in international relations. In contrast, China sees history as entities splitting off from the rubric of one nation, which must be forestalled. Chinese think in terms of overcoming anarchy by all means, while Russia, as all European states, is quite at ease with anarchy as it seeks institutions to reduce mutual distrust. Although the reader may draw apparent conclusions about China’s readiness to accept Russia as a partner in an institutionalized regional or world order, this is not explored directly by Bordachev.

Vasilii Kashin in Profil’ on October 15 discussed how Sino-Russian strategic cooperation in a missile attack warning system affects the world balance of power. Announcing Russia’s help for China, Putin did not specify what components would be provided, giving rise to speculation ranging from supply of the entire system to local, less significant cooperation. The truth probably lies in between, Kashin suggests. Only one contract has been noted. Yet, the fact Putin raised this issue indicates the help is substantial, such as joint production or production in response to Chinese orders. There is no doubt that China seeks full control over its system and that Chinese firms will integrate the main elements. More interesting is the future regime of how the Russian and Chinese systems function. There is a high level of trust, raising the possibility of integrating the two systems with automatic exchange of data. Although the two states do not want to form a formal military alliance, their relations already have that character. If the two systems are integrated, it would mean a full military alliance. Russian technical assistance is accelerating China’s rise as the third nuclear superpower, for which there is decreasing doubt China is planning. This is bad news for the US and makes containment of China in Asia much riskier. As for Russia, the system in China is not of great use against it since the two countries are located so close. In order for China to transition to systematic opposition to the US, this is extremely important. Thus, this move will facilitate the strengthening of global security, concludes Kashin.

On October 23 Vladimir Nezhdanov in Evraziia Expert looked at the view from Beijing of the rocket warning system deal, arguing that on October 3 it became known that Russia can fill a nuclear gap for China in space and missile defense, which arouses discussion of a full military alliance despite restraint in declaring that. China is now certain that Russia will keep turning to the East and forging a long-term bond. The US departure from the INF agreement has raised Chinese consciousness of the threat of US intermediate missiles being stationed in neighboring states, undermining China’s nuclear deterrent. For the first time since the Cold War, China characterizes the situation as unstable in world politics, leading it to underscore the rising significance of Moscow in its defense, compared to its military doctrine of 2015.
This leads Beijing to strengthen both the military and economic aspects of the partnership, which worries Japan as does Russia’s build-up of forces in the Far East. Further joint patrols by Russian and Chinese bombers in the region can be expected. The declaration by Putin and Xi in June 2019 marks a new stage in relations of an all-around partnership and strategic cooperation. The 2001 treaty is active to 2021, and the further tightening of ties along with joint opposition to the US can lead to a new treaty aimed at forging an alliance relationship.

On October 3 Vladimir Nezhdanov asked in Evraziia Expert what China’s new Arctic strategy means, following a Chinese proposal in September for cooperation on an “economy of ice and snow.” China seeks to develop the “Ice belt of the Silk Road.” What are the pros and cons for Russia? Although bilateral relations were not the central theme of the Eastern Economic Forum, there was a detailed discussion of cooperation between the Russian Far East and Northeast China supplemented with the IBSR theme. That concept had been used by Heilongjiang to boost tourism and production of equipment for working in the cold and has been applied to preparations for the Beijing Winter Olympics of 2022. But it was raised for Russia only at the EEF-2019, referring to the similarity in climate between the RFE and NEC as well as the development of the Arctic. In February Putin transferred the function of developing the Arctic to the Ministry of Developing the East (Minvostokrazvitie). Putin and Xi in June then agreed to widen the scale of developing and utilizing Arctic shipping routes. China remains interested in extracting resources, transport, and scientific research. It is also responding to the rise in global competition for influence in the north as the ice melts in the summer season. A January 2018 Chinese document outlined the political course of China as a “near-Arctic” country positioned close to the eight Arctic states. It seeks Russia’s support, aware that Russia both seeks massive investment and fears losing its dominant position on the Northern maritime route. Unlike the Antarctic, the Arctic lacks an international agreement on peaceful use of the territory, but Beijing would welcome one. China’s initiative could be useful for Russia’s “turn to the East” and for investments to build infrastructure and tourism. Yet, Russian society and part of the elite, who are not oriented toward Asia, do not support international cooperation in Asiatic Russia. There is no labor for projects or enough mutual trust, according to China experts. Also, Russia would have to ease access of Chinese investors into the Arctic region. China’s position in Eurasia would then be enhanced, not just Sino-Russian relations. It appears that Russia’s response is not yet settled.

In Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn’ Igor’ Morgulov wrote on Sino-Russian relations on the 70th anniversary of the PRC, praising their strength and new thrust in 2019 and looking forward to 2020 when they celebrate the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, the causes and course of which they similarly recognize. They work together against those trying to falsify history. Trade is booming at a record pace and its contents are improving with high-tech goods. Agriculture trade rose by a quarter in 2018 and keeps growing, as talks proceed on opening market for grain, dairy, and livestock products. Russia is now first in supplying oil to China, and in December the first gas pipeline will begin operations as talks continue on a western route pipeline. Yamal natural gas is beginning to reach China and another Arctic project is under way. Docking the Northern sea route with China’s maritime silk road into a global route is being examined. A joint university in Shenzhen has started with 325 students. Tourism has risen: 2.2 million Russians and 1.7 million Chinese visited the other country. Last June Moscow received two pandas. The Russia-India-China trilateral has advanced, becoming a force for integration in the Eurasian space, as has the Russia-Mongolia-China trilateral. Progress on the Korean Peninsula not only aims at deescalating tension but also at forming a mechanism of peace and security in all of Northeast Asia. The Foreign Ministry official in charge of bilateral relations is unquestionably positive on what is transpiring.

Greater Eurasia

A.V. Lukin and D.P. Novikov in Vostok (Oriens) on October 31 wrote about the shift from Greater Europe to Greater Eurasia in Russian foreign policy, pointing to Putin’s 2016 call for a broader rubric as key. Some call this an objective historical trend with Russia and China as two centers of a widening process, while others in the West view it as an effort by Russia to raise its status by boosting its relationship with China without wider effect amid fragility as Russians respond to China’s asymmetrical power. The authors accept a mixture of the two with objective political and strategic logic but with economic logic missing. Karaganov and Bordachev take the first approach and perceive an international community, parallel to the trans-Atlantic community. Assumptions about how that arose underline doubts that a similar process is under way in Eurasia. Expectations that geopolitical contradictions prevent China and Russia from forming a community prevailed. The authors respond that even if some national interests do not overlap, they are not contradictory, and of late values and political systems are drawing closer. In the West too, imbalances existed in political and economic power, but distrust overcame them and can do so between China and Russia. Another argument that is refuted is that China and Russia have initiated the tensions with the West rather than been driven together by reacting to Western moves. Also, the idealistic portrayal of the formation of the community after the end of the Cold War overlooks the two factors of the external pressure of the USSR and the sharp expansion of the US role in Europe, which resemble China’s fast rise in Eurasia and external pressure by the West. Today the US imposes economic sanctions, pursues containment, and designates China and Russia as geopolitical opponents. Efforts by the two to integrate into the Western order were exhausted in 2014-15. Clashing Sino-US regional initiatives and South China Sea behavior preceded the 2017 further deterioration in bilateral ties. Now the confrontations with Russia and China have been institutionalized and have merged into one struggle with a bloc. The authors foresee only a deepening of the divide between two camps, but the dearth of commentary about any country besides China and Russia raises questions as to what is meant by Greater Eurasia and what constitutes a community comparable to the Western one.

Central Asia

Temur Umarov wrote in the Moscow Carnegie Center report of October 28 about protests in Kazakhstan against China, mentioning an “anti-Chinese autumn.” One precondition of cooperation is not to discuss problems in the relationship, such as rising debts to China, the growing presence of Chinese firms and goods, the persistence of “oil for technology” or Chinese goods of higher technical quality, and the persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang. Dissatisfaction with China has been growing for years, while leaders are unable to discuss with the people the balance of problems and possibilities in this relationship. Instead, controls on the Internet are tightened as “provocateurs” are rooted out. One recent protest centered on demands to prevent transfer of 55 Chinese factories to Kazakhstan, leading to solidarity actions in other cities. Other demands were aired: against Chinese migrants taking local jobs, pollution, mass purchases of land, and persecution of Kazakhs in Xinjiang, and the government closing its eyes to all of this in exchange for Investments and bribes. The response had been dialogue, but on September 21 harsh repression occurred, shortly before a state visit by President Tokayev to China and an earlier visit of Li Zhanshu to Kazakhstan. The Chinese ambassador blamed the trouble in the oil town on foreign forces, e.g., Chevron.

What is stressed here is the indication of Sinophobic attitudes, which could be used in an internal political struggle, as leaders respond with repression. Expectations were raised that the transfer of factories would boost Kazakh employment and economic diversification. As projects were realized, however, Chinese were found to be buying the debts of Kazakh companies without necessarily creating new jobs. Chinese data showed over $11 billion in exports to Kazakhstan, but local statistics showed less than 40 percent as much, reflecting corruption, much of it in the special economic zone, Khorgos. Small businesses of Chinese and controlling stakes in companies in the energy sector were of concern. The level of debt to China has in fact fallen since 2013 and is low as a percentage of GDP compared to other Central Asian countries. Also, despite concern, there are only 12,000 Chinese working in Kazakhstan, according to official data. Salaries are higher in Xinjiang.

Whereas discontent with China has risen to the surface in other Central Asian states, Kazakhstan is most impacted by the policy in Xinjiang, as in the mass collection of biometric data and the prohibition on contacts with foreigners. About 1½ million Kazakhs live in Xinjiang. Society sees its leaders taking the side of China. Previously, China only demanded adherence to the “one China” principle and a struggle against the “three forces of evil,” even if the unwritten taboo has been against talk of problems in relations in return for investments, but those have fallen sharply since 2014 as the price of oil has dropped. The Chinese infrastructure program in Kazakhstan ends in December; investments totaling $33-43 billion have exhausted the possibilities. Tokaev’s recent visit brought no new plans. The need for economic ties with China persists, but as concern about dependency rises, it is harder to suppress anti-Chinese sentiments, which now can be used by political opponents.

US-ROK relations

Sergei Strokan’ in Kommersant on November 14 examined ROK-US relations, noting complex negotiations under way in light of Trump’s shocking demands to boost host-nation support by a vast amount and Seoul’s refusal to agree to US mediation in its dispute with Tokyo. The aim of Secretary Esper’s trip through the Indo-Pacific is described as rallying countries to contain China. Esper seeks to realize FOIP as an alternative to BRI, but the most complex visit is to Seoul, where views of China, North Korea, and alliance responsibilities and conditions for the presence of US forces there differ. The US aim of mobilizing against China does not win Seoul’s understanding. Seoul’s national interests call for turning the Indo-Pacific into a zone of free and secure trade, which requires improved Sino-US relations and better ties with North Korea. Many in Seoul are no longer concealing their disappointment with Trump, complaining that he is interested in only two things: how to use the situation on the continent for his reelection and how to win the Nobel Peace Prize without removing sanctions and allowing North and South to reach agreement on their own. A memoir by Snodgrass revealed how Trump speaks not only of China but also of South Korea ripping off the US, it is reported. One ROK paper asked why Trump hates Koreans.

North Korea

L.V. Zakharova in Vestnik Mezhdunarodnykh Organizatsii studied the influence of UN sanctions on the economy of North Korea. The past decade has shown a rise in the GDP despite the UN limitations, due especially to the spread of market elements and trade with China. Since 2017 the amount of exports has fallen, and foreign transactions have grown more costly as the North has found new pathways to cooperation with the world economy. These factors strengthen the big companies tied to the government, squeezing out private business and leading to a 3.5 percent drop in GDP in 2017. The DPRK used sophisticated methods to evade sanctions, including global oil supply chains, complicit foreign nationals, offshore company registries. and the international banking system. Throughout, Russia and China have tried to mitigate the sanctions. China supplied electrical and communications equipment, vehicles, household appliances and electronics, plastic products, mineral fuel, food products, various clothes and other goods, and crude oil not included in its customs statistics (about 500,000 tons per year) through a pipeline. Until recently North Korea exported coal, iron ore and other minerals, textiles, fish, seafood and other goods to China. Chinese companies and financial intermediaries thus provided a lifeline for the DPRK’s economy and connected it with the outside world, mitigating the effect of international sanctions by exporting North Korean goods under Chinese brands, as well as by mediating purchases of foreign products for the DPRK’s consumers. Finally, China agreed to impose restrictions against commercial trade and certain sectors of the North Korean economy.

Mention is made of China’s position softening in response to the 2018 summits with Kim Jong-un, which has been interpreted in the US as non-compliance with China’s prior commitments. China’s tacit agreement to keep the DPRK afloat (e.g., through permitted humanitarian assistance or a “creative approach” to compliance with UN resolutions) may again become a significant factor, readers are told with no hint that this is problematic for Russia. In the case of Russia, it obtained permission for the Sputnik bank to establish relations with the DPRK’s Foreign Trade Bank, which created a special channel for humanitarian assistance. Yet Ambassador Alexander Matsegora noted that the international sanctions continued to have a significant negative impact on the humanitarian situation. The article suggests that the tens of thousands of construction specialists who will return home from their foreign trips in the near future may then contribute to the expansion of the construction boom that started in Pyongyang and some other cities several years ago. Without abandoning nuclear weapons, however, large-scale external assistance will remain prohibited, the article concludes, as if that pressure should suffice for Russia’s interests.

In RIA Novosti on October 31, Matsegora discussed surprises ahead and how to resolve the main bilateral problem with Russia, illegal fishing. He notes that political relations after Kim’s April Vladivostok summit are on the rise, amid an ongoing intensive dialogue in all directions on activating or restoring ties where they are lagging. So far, economic ties have been blocked by the existing customs and banking blockade of the DPRK. Asked if Defense Minister Shoigu will be visiting Pyongyang, Matsegora responded that at many summits North Korean military leaders are present, and Russia also seeks to maintain contacts with them. Only in July 2000 did Moscow send a defense minister to Pyongyang—along with Putin—and the DPRK military chief was in Moscow in April. The ambassador expressed sympathy with North Koreans but commented on his talks with fishing authorities about severe steps to stop illegal fishing and signs of reduced poaching. Asked about DPRK-US talks and the threat of new nuclear and ICBM tests after December 31, he repeated the view held by North Korea that the US is under Cold War thinking and expresses daily antagonism to the North. Still, he hopes that the two sides find common language and that the US sends a positive signal to forestall an unwelcome shift. The ambassador refers to Kim Jong-un as sincere, honest, and consistently fulfilling his promises, despite many around him seeking to dissuade him from denuclearization, while warning that Kim will reconsider if the US fails to relax its pressure. Clearly, the ball is in the US court to keep diplomacy moving forward.

On November 10 in Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn’ Gleb Ivashentsov, ambassador to the ROK, asked if the North Korean rocket and nuclear crisis would be resolved. Unlike in the Cold War era when the only instrument of control over strategic weapons was the relationship between Moscow and Washington, today states with nuclear weapons are not under their control. Some of today’s nuclear states act as a counterweight to another country and do not aspire to global supremacy, but North Korea is focused only on the United States, not South Korea, seeking defense from a potential US attack in a possible new inter-Korean war. Only with the appearance of ICBMs in the mid-2010s did the US grow alarmed, facing the third country after Russia and China that could hit large US cities. Not only is the US alarmed, the entire system of nuclear non-proliferation is at risk. South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan may opt for nuclear weapons in a chain reaction once the US nuclear umbrella is in doubt along with terrorist organizations going nuclear. Today, the North only seeks nuclear weapons for defense, but there is no guarantee it will not want to use force against Seoul, calculating that the US will not interfere, or that an accidental nuclear attack will not occur.

The North’s weapons are only 100s of kilometers from Russia, leading Russia in 2005 to join the Joint Agreement, calling for forging a system of peace and stability in Northeast Asia through a compromise meeting the needs of North Korea. Not all participants in the talks, above all the US, were prepared to fulfill their obligations. The US was preparing for war in 2017, but its allies refused to join in such an adventure, causing Trump to turn to summitry with Kim Jong-un. US demands are unrealistic, depriving North Korea of its defenses. It needs to be convinced of its security and independence. Sanctions do not work since China refuses to suffocate the North, but also since China prioritizes the balance of power in the region versus the US, which is surrounding China with its trilateral alliance plan and does not want a stream of refugees and possible loose nukes crossing its border. China does not see a direct threat from the North’s nuclear weapons. Thus, it continues to trade with the North, including bypassing sanctions.

Trump is the clearest proponent of the interests of the American establishment, the article asserts, which demands the North do everything right away. Hawks prevented Trump from agreeing in Hanoi to a deal, although the North may be inclined to make a deal that only pretends to lead to denuclearization. Meanwhile, Kim’s many summits, in essence, are leading to talk of a return to a six-party format, in one form or another. The only way forward is in stages, and the first could involve the closing of the Yongbyon center in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. Ivashentsov doubts that the US political establishment would accept this. The reason, he adds, that Kim cannot visit Seoul is that there is an “odious” law in the ROK demanding Kim’s arrest if he is in the country, and Moon is too weak politically to get that removed. Ministries in Seoul continue to treat the North as provinces of the ROK temporarily under the DPRK, which further hampers ties. To Ivashentsov, therefore, the barriers to peace are in the South, and in the UNSC not passing a resolution that the war has ended and there is no further need for the UN command. The 1953 armistice agreement was not an inter-government document; it was just signed by three commanders. A peace agreement should be between two sovereign Koreas with possible guarantees from the five permanent members of the UNSC. Ivanshentsov sees hope for resolving the nuclear problem and considers the course of managing this critical for the future of Northeast and the development of global processes. Missing is an analysis of the aspirations of North Korea, as if they are a given, not requiring further consideration.

Andrei Lankov in Profil’ on November 11 discussed the socialist nature of the ideology of the DPRK. In 2002 newspapers dropped “Workers of the world unite.” In 2009 Marxism and communism were removed from the constitution. In 2012 portraits of Marx and Lenin were taken down from the main square in Pyongyang. Yet, Marxism-Leninism was not anathema; it only was made secondary, treated positively. On the world arena talk of the DPRK as socialist continues, and at home there is no official recognition of markets, unlike in China. Yet, socialism is not linked to importing Marxism-Leninism but to national juche.

Oleg Kir’ianov on September 29 in Rossiiskaya Gazeta wrote about hotel construction in Pyongyang, on the assumption of a sharp rise in tourism, especially from China. As various old hotels are repaired for the new flow of tourists, the new ones of 20-30 stories will be comprehensive in their services. The article makes clear that Russian guests are welcome, but optimism is based primarily on the warming relationship with China and on the recent opening of some additional roadways available for tourist groups from various regions of that country. Kir’ianov on October 3 wrote about the growing prowess of the DPRK’s rocket and nuclear force, capable of overcoming missile defenses. No hint is offered on what this means for the vulnerability of the US and future scenarios involving Russia. On October 31 Kir’ianov in the same paperdescribed the second city of North Korea Hamhung, noting the charms of his delegation’s visit there without any hint of any drawbacks for tourism apart from electricity outages. He makes it clear that the city is eagerly awaiting Russian tourists.