Russia’s view and interests changes in Northeast Asia
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Timofei V. Bordachev

Doctor of Political Science
National Research University–Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs
Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies
Academic Supervisor;
Valdai Discussion Club, Moscow, Russia
Program Director


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South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s efforts to stimulate inter-Korean detente and the ongoing denuclearization talks between North Korea and the U.S. are both welcome by Moscow and essential for achieving Russia’s policy priorities with regards to Northeast Asia and Asia in general. The reason for this is simple ? Russia wants a peaceful Asia, as only this will support Russia’s internal development goals.

The possibility of realizing Russia’s plans for the development of the Russian Far East depends heavily on peace in Asia. For the success of its «Turn to the East» policy, Russia needs international cooperation, predictability and investment. Instability in Northeast Asia means the absence of these three conditions. Moreover, stability is an important argument in favor of the fact that Russian and foreign investors will come to the Russian Pacific region.

The outgoing 2018 was the year of the most important events for the Korean Peninsula and Asia as a whole. Throughout 2017, humankind experienced the fear of a big war in Northeast Asia.

In November 2017, I participated in a major international conference in Seoul. The atmosphere among the participants was grim. Russia and China came up with a joint plan for resolving the problem. However, without initiative from South and North Korea, the implementation of any plan was not possible. In addition, a prerequisite was the United States agreeing to the dialogue.

However, military confrontation, even minor hostilities, did not happen. Instead, we have witnessed several diplomatic breakthroughs. What seemed almost impossible in mid-December 2017 has happened. One can identify several factors that have played an important role here.

The most important factor of change was the determination of the President of the Republic of Korea to improve relations between the two halves of the peninsula. After his election victory, President Moon simultaneously showed firmness and readiness to resume the dialogue without any preliminary conditions. In September 2017, Moon joined the plenary session at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, calling on other countries of the region to promote peace on the peninsula.

The first days of 2018 already brought changes. Telephone communication between the North and the South was restored, and bilateral consultations began. Both countries formed a joint Olympic team to compete in 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang. On April 27, leaders of North and South Korea met for the third time.

However, of course, the beginning of a dialogue on the nuclear issue was impossible without the consent and participation of the United States, first of all, to direct negotiation with Pyongyang, for which the North Korean authorities have so long been striving. Important reasons were also needed for this agreement.

From a purely academic perspective, the other important factor that made this breakthrough possible was the change in the missile potential of North Korea. After numerous violations of the nonproliferation regime as well as bans on the developing of rocket technologies, the North Korean regime was theoretically able to threaten the territory of the United States.

It can be assumed that this was an important reason for the readiness of U.S. President Donald Trump to begin a direct dialogue with North Korea. Previously, the United States viewed the North Korean nuclear and missile issue as part of global politics and its relations with China.

Now Washington is looking at this issue from the point of view of its national security. This gives the U.S. determination to reach a peaceful settlement and potentially supports responsibility.

The meeting of President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took place in Singapore on June 12. It did not bring any breakthrough solutions, but it significantly changed the atmosphere around both Koreas. Now the efforts of Seoul and Pyongyang to establish mutual openness are occurring in a favorable international environment.

However, the fact that the Korean problem has become a matter of U.S. national security is also dangerous. In the event that the parties fail to make real progress, the incumbent or the next American president could return to considering the military scenario.

In the long term, Russia is interested in the peaceful unification of North and South Korea into one state. We understand that in order to achieve this, parties will have a long way to go. However, if you look at the map, it becomes obvious that Russia prefers to see near its Pacific capital Vladivostok a peaceful and independent strong neighbor.

In addition, many Koreans historically live in Russia. Such a diaspora can help strengthen economic ties. Russia’s contribution to detente on the peninsula will be defined by its capabilities in the fields of energy and transportation as well as a potential market for the North Korean labor force.

At the same time, Russia has certain legitimate security considerations regarding the presence of the American military forces close to its borders. The relations between Moscow and Washington are not likely to become friendly anytime soon. Therefore, Russia will always maintain dialogue and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula and be careful that new threats and challenges do not arise.

Still, the most important thing for Russia is the influence of the Korean issue on Russia’s own long-term goals. In the 21st century, Russia does not see itself as a military-political player in Asia. The main interest is the economy, and the integration of the Far East into the Asian market. And for this, peace and stability are the two most necessary conditions.

The Korea Times