Russia Secretly Offered North Korea a Denuclearization Deal Last Year
A secret offer between Russia and North Korea is being viewed by analysts as a move by Russia to assert its influence on the world stage.
Russian officials secretly offered North Korea a nuclear power plant in exchange for the country’s denuclearization, a move aimed at resolving stalled negotiation between Pyongyang and the U.S., according to a Washington Post report.
U.S. officials told the paper that Moscow’s offer would have enabled Russia to operate nuclear facilities in the Korean Peninsula.
“The Russians are very opportunistic when it comes to North Korea, and this is not the first time they’ve pursued an energy stake in Korea,” said Victor Cha, a former White House official who was last year named the nominee for U.S. ambassador to South Korea.
The U.S. Secretary of State, White House, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Russian embassy in Washington all declined to comment on Russia’s secret proposal. It is also unknown whether the offer is still under negotiations or if it has affected talks between the U.S. and North Korea.
After the historic summit in June 2018, Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un are planning to hold talks at the end of February this year. It is not known yet which country will host the summit, but it is believed that the meeting will be held in one of the Asian countries.
Russia Can Play a Pivotal Role in Korean Peninsula Negotiations
The Kremlin’s plan, which was discovered by U.S. intelligence officials at the end of 2018, marks Moscow’s new effort to take part in high-level nuclear summits so that Russia can position itself more centrally in geopolitical issues from the Middle East to Latin America.
Even though Russia has never been involved in North Korea’s nuclear negotiations, Moscow’s influence cannot be underestimated given its strong ties with Pyongyang.
Elizabeth Economy, director of Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said ahead of the Trump-Jong-Un talks in June 2018: “Despite its relatively low public profile as a player in the North Korea negotiations, Russia’s behind-the-scenes ability to throw a wrench in the process should not be underestimated.”
Russia, Economy added, can be the negotiator (given its equal relationship with both Koreas), but it also can be the spoiler – as Russia has its own interest when it comes to the energy sector and Moscow always opposes Washington’s sanctions on North Korea. The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) claims the most important, but often forgotten role, that Russia can play is as the unholy ally. The CFR claims both Russia and North Korea share a willingness to use chemical weapons and accusations of such use by Western countries.
North Korea was believed to have used a VX nerve agent to kill Kim Jong-Un’s half-brother in Malaysia and Russia was accused of using it to kill former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia last May. Also, Russia has supported Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime, which the West accuses of using chemical weapons during the eight-year bloodshed, though Syria denies any such use. The allegations alone of chemical weapons by Western nations could be enough to bind the countries.
Why Russia is Getting Involved in the Korean Peninsula?
According to Ken Gause, director of the adversary analytics program at the defense think tank CNA, security and the economy are the primary reasons behind Russia’s wish to become a player in the Korean Peninsula.
“They have aspirations to build a gas pipeline that extends through North Korea all the way down to South Korea, for example. They share a border with North Korea and want a say in how security in Northeast Asia evolves,” Gause explained.
He added that it is very unlikely for North Korea to give up its nuclear programs until it normalizes ties with the U.S. and ends a decade-long conflict between them. Russia may facilitate dialogue, but if the U.S. and North Korea keep maintaining an adversarial relationship, Pyongyang will be reluctant to take any opportunity to denuclearize.
Diplomats and analysts familiar with Russia’s maneuvers said that the Kremlin has a long-standing interest in creating energy-related ties between Siberia and East Asia. Thus Russia would benefit from any peaceful solutions on the Korean peninsula as peace can open up economic opportunities in the region.
Past Russian Involvement in Korean Denuclearization
U.S. officials have opposed Russia’s previous involvement in the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula because of Washington’s long-standing distrust of Moscow. China, another key player in negotiations, has also rejected any significant Russian energy influence on the Korean peninsula.
“If this is part of a final deal, Trump could be okay with it if it pokes China in the eye,” said Cha to MSN. “The Chinese don’t want the Russians on the peninsula, so if they’re going to be the primary energy supplier, they won’t like it.”
During negotiations with the Bush administration, Russia proposed providing a light-water reactor to North Korea in exchange for the demolition of the communist state’s plutonium production facilities. Cha stated that the U.S. opposed that proposal as the U.S. only wanted to North Korea to accept an alternative energy solution that did not include nuclear power.