North Korea–Russia relations

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

North Korea


North Korea and Russia first established diplomatic relations on October 12, 1948 shortly after the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was proclaimed. Though the two were close allies during the Cold War, relations between them have loosened since the breakup of the Soviet Union.[1] The relationship gained some importance again during the 2000s. And especially during the 2010s after Kim Jong-Un announced the acceptance of visiting Russia.(2014–15) The two states share a border along the lower Tumen River (Туманная), which is 17 kilometers (11 mi) long and was formed only in 1860 when the Tsar Alexander II acquired territory ceded from China in the Convention of Peking.

Favorable perceptions of North Korea in Russia are gradually declining, with only 34% of Russians viewing North Korea as a friendly nation and 60% of Russians believing that North Korea's nuclear arms pose a threat to other countries; only 8% of Russians favor supporting North Korea in a potential conflict.[2] According to a 2014 BBC World Service Poll, 19% of Russians view North Korea's influence positively, with 37% expressing a negative view.[3]


Soviet period[edit]

North Korea–Soviet Union relations

North Korea

Soviet Union

Russian Federation[edit]


Embassy of North Korea in Moscow


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 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 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.

Embassy of Russia in Pyongyang

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

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 30 March 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.[4]

The 2010s[edit]

Kim Jong-il with former Russian President Dimitry Medvedev in 2011.

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".

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.[5]

Delegation of Russia's Federal Air Transport Agency (Rosaviatsia) visited Pyongyang during 12 to 14 December 2011. On December 13 (Tuesday) Rosaviatsia director Neradiko Alexandr and Kang Ki-sop, director of General Bureau of Civil Aviation signed an agreement on civilian search and rescue between Russia and the North Korea.[6]

Following the North Korean announcement that it agreed to introduce a moratorium on nuclear tests, long-range missile launches and uranium enrichment, Russia's foreign ministry said "We welcome North Korea's decision to impose a moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and launching long-range ballistic missiles, and enriching uranium".[7]

After Putin won the 2012 Russian presidential election Kim Jong-un congratulated him, writing in a letter "I wish you achievement in your responsible work for building a powerful Russia, expressing belief that the traditional bilateral relations of friendship and cooperation would grow stronger".[8]

In May 2012 Russia appointed Alexandr Timonin as the new ambassador to North Korea. The latter presented his credentials to Kim Yong Nam at the Mansudae Assembly Hall.[9] In June 27, 2012, during the visit of the Deputy Foreign Minister of the DPRK Kung Seok-ung to Moscow, Foreign Ministries of both countries have signed an inter-ministerial plan of exchanges on 2013–2014. On June 5, 2012, the two sides concluded a Boundary Treaty between the two governments.

In September 2012 Russia agreed to write off 90% of North Korea's $11 billion historic debt to Russia as a sign of closer engagement with North Korea's new leader.[10] The $1 billion North Korea has to repay will be used to finance Russian investment in humanitarian and energy projects in North Korea.[11] This agreement removed legal blocks hindering the financing of trade between the two countries.[11]

On February 2014, during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Krasnodar Krai, a delegation headed by Kim Yong-nam travelled to represent North Korea, even though the latter didn't participate in these Olympics. Nam had a meeting with President Putin, as well as Kim also met a number of Russian parliamentarians and state officials in Moscow en route to the Games in Sochi. These included Valentina Matvienko and Ilyas Umakhanov of the Russian Federation Council, Mikhail Margelov, the chair of the International Affairs Committee of the same body, and Vice Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov. KCTV also introduced the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics on the day it took place, the 8th, focusing on the presence of Kim Yong Nam.[12]

In October 2014, the new North Korean Foreign Minister, Ri Su Yong, made a ten-day visit to Russia.[11]

In November 2014 North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's special envoy, Choe Ryong Hae, made a seven-day visit to Russia. During his trip, Choe Ryong Hae met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, delivering a letter to him from Kim Jong-un, and with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.[13]

Economic relations[edit]

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. Soviet aid to the DPRK indeed expanded from 1965 to 1968, especially after Sino-North Korean relations soured during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

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.

In response to the famine stricken North Korea in the mid-1990s, 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.[14]

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.

In August 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.[15] 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"[16] 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 2 February 2012 Interfax report, further quoted the Russian ambassador to North Korea Sukhinin as saying that Russia "did not rule out" the possibility of sending more humanitarian aid to North Korea, "depending on the situation there and taking into account our capabilities". Sukhinin went on to say that in 2011 Russia had provided North Korea with 50,000 ton of grain on a bilateral basis, as well as with 5m dollars worth of flour as part of athe World Food Programme. In addition, 10,000 ton of grain was dispatched to North Korea by Gazprom.[17]

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.

In May 2014 Russia and North Korea have agreed to settlements in rubles in all trade between the two countries.[18] The first transactions in rubles between Russia and North Korea were carried out in October 2014.[19]

In March 2015, a Russian official said Moscow and Pyongyang have agreed to discuss the creation of advanced development zones in Russia’s Far East and North Korea.[20]


On 18 September 2012 North Korea and Russia signed a deal on debt owed by Pyongyang to Moscow. It is estimated that North Korean owed about $11 billion. North Korea's debt was made during the existence of the Soviet Union when the Soviets made loans to the Koreans. The negotiations about debt reduction were held earlier in 2012, while the deal was signed in Moscow.[21]

In 2011 it was reported that Russia would write off 90% of the North Korean debt and in return Russia would be allowed to invest in North Korean projects in the energy, health and education sectors, as reported in 2012. One of the major projects planned by Russia was build of a gas pipeline to energy-hungry South Korea through North Korea. The multi-billion project is, however, unlikely to be realized as North and South Korea are still de jure at war.[21]

On 5 May 2014 Russian President Vladimir Putin has ratified an agreement to write off 90% of North Korea’s debts after the State Duma passed the law on 18 April 2014 and the Federation Council approved it on 29 April 2014.[22]

Military relations[edit]

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.

The nuclear issue[edit]

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.[23]

From 2003 onwards both states participated in the Six-party talks.

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.”[24]

North Korea under the third generation leader Kim Jong Un continues to defy the international community in relation to its nuclear and rocket programme.[25] It has recently advised foreign embassies that the North Korean government could not guarantee their safety in an event of conflict and advise the foreign embassies to reconsider their evacuation plans.[25]


  1. ^ Shrivastava, Sanskar. "North Korea Loses Popularity in Russia, Where is the Conflict Heading?". The World Reporter. Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  2. ^ North Korea loses popularity among Russians amid ongoing crisis RT
  3. ^ 2014 World Service Poll BBC
  4. ^ Asia Times, Russia and the North Korean Knot.
  5. ^ RIA Nvosoti, October 19, 2011
  6. ^ 18/12/2011, 19:45, NK Leadership Watch, "DPRK, Russia Complete Agreement in aerial SAR"
  7. ^ Russia welcomes North Korea nuclear moratorium pledge, March 1, 2012
  8. ^ "Kim Jong-Un Congratulates Putin on Polls Victory", RIA Novosti, March 9, 2012.
  9. ^ New Russian Ambassador to DPRK Presents Credentials, NK Leadership Watch, May 3, 2012.
  10. ^ "Russia writes off 90 percent of North Korea's debt". Reuters (CNBC). 18 September 2012. Retrieved 2 October 2012. 
  11. ^ a b c Georgy Toloraya (6 November 2014). "Russia-North Korea Economic Ties Gain Traction". 38 North (U.S.-Korea Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies). Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  12. ^ "Kim Yong Nam Presses Flesh in Sochi". Daily NK. 10 February 2014. Retrieved 11 February 2014. 
  13. ^ "Russia writes off nearly $10 bln in North Korean debt", United Press International, November 24, 2014
  14. ^ ITAR-TASS, March 7, 1998
  15. ^ Washington Post, August 22, NKorea's Kim may stop at another Russian city to look at oil pipeline
  16. ^ Yonhap news agency site- Korean Central News Agency
  17. ^ "Russian ambassador to North Korea upbeat on cooperation prospects", Interfax, February 7, 2012.
  18. ^ "Russia and N. Korea switching to trade in rubles", RT, June 5, 2014
  19. ^ Russia, "North Korea Conduct First Transactions in Rubles: Ministry", Sputnik, October 20, 2014
  20. ^
  21. ^ a b "North Korea says signed debt deal with Russia". Reuters. 18 September 2012. Retrieved 18 September 2012. 
  22. ^ "Russia writes off nearly $10 bln in North Korean debt", The Voice of Russia, March 5, 2014
  23. ^ Valentin Moiseev, "On the Korean Settlement" International Affairs (Moscow) 43, no. 3 (1997)
  24. ^ "FM: Russia urges DPRK to demonstrate responsibility". People's Daily Online. 2009-05-25. Retrieved 2009-05-25. 
  25. ^ a b JIM HEINTZ and VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV (5 April 2013). "North Korea Asks Russian Embassy To Consider Evacuation". Huffington Post. 

External links[edit]