Kim Jong Il’s “fun trip” to Siberia and Russia’s Far East and his meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has started to yield fruit. An anonymous official in Russia’s Ministry of Finance told Izvestiya that it had finalized plans to cancel 90% of the DPRK’s $11 billion debt to the former Soviet Union. The remaining 10% will be invested in joint projects to be developed within the DPRK. In Moscow, DPRK Minister of Oil Industry, Kim Hui Yong (Kim Hu’i-yo’ng) met with Gazprom officials to discuss “practical organization” in pipeline construction, as well as establishing a “working group.” Kim’s meeting occurred about a week after Gazprom ceremoniously opened the Sakhalin-Vladivostok pipeline. It also took place while the head of ROK’s KOGAS arrived in Moscow to meet with Gazprom officials. Kim So-hyun of Korea Herald writes:
On Wednesday, the South’s Korea Gas Corp. said that its president, Choo Kang-soo, left for Russia for meetings with officials of Russia’s largest gas firm Gazprom. His departure came a day after North Korea’s Oil Industry Minister Kim Hui-yong headed to Russia, according to Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency.
Choo, as then vice president of Hyundai Corp., had assisted Lee as Hyundai E&C sought to ink the MOU with Moscow two decades ago.
KOGAS and Gazprom had signed a memorandum of understanding in September 2008 in which the two agreed to push for the pipeline natural gas project. Lee then named Choo as head of KOGAS.
“Talks on the PNG project began to speed up recently,” KOGAS spokesman Song Jae-ho said.
Choo met with Alexander Ananenkov, deputy chairman of Gazprom’s management committee, early last month in Russia. North Korea’s Kim also met with Ananenkov early July in Pyongyang.
Last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il said he supports Moscow’s long-sought project to push for gas exports to Korea during summit talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
The discussions between KOGAS and Gazprom are expected to be followed up by Korea-Russia joint economic committee meetings on Oct. 24-25 in Seoul, in which Finance Minister Bahk Jae-wan and Russian Minister of Regional Development Viktor Basargin will take part as head of delegations.
Basargin held similar meetings with North Korea late last month in which the two sides negotiated the PNG project.
The project aims to reconstruct an existing section of the railway, the Port of Rajin cargo terminal, and the subsequent use of this infrastructure for transit, with access to the Trans-Siberian Railway.
The project aims not only to restore this section of railway, but also to make full use of the container port of Rajin.
“Now we shall consider the question of the transportation of coal”, noted Russian Railways president Vladimir Yakunin.
The shortest path between the European Union and Southeast Asia (a region which produces up to 70% of the world’s GDP) is through Russia.
Traditionally, the choice has boiled down to either shipping things by sea or via the Trans-Siberian, but the increased demand for transcontinental transportation is now generating corresponding proposals, and there are about two dozen different versions of new corridors that could potentially win up to 40% of the traffic from the traditional routes.
In this regard, the implementation of international projects that could be acquired for the Far Eastern Railway are of ‘particular importance’.
In the course of the reconstruction project in 2011, Russian Railways will install 56 track switches and more than 64 km of main and secondary rail routes. To date, 36 track switches have been installed by contractors, who have repaired 14.6 km of secondary tracks and 6 km of the main line.
Asahi Shimbun, citing a source in the DPRK, and other media report that the Russian and DPRK navies will conduct joint search and rescue (SAR) exercises in 2012. The agreement to conduct the exercises was reached when the Russian Federation Armed Forces Eastern Military District Commander visited the DPRK. He met with KPA Chief of the General Staff, Ri Yong Ho (Ri Yo’ng-ho) on 25 August. The DPRK has not conducted any official or reported military or security exercises with another country for some time. During the 1980s the KPA Navy (Korean People’s Navy) used to send a flotilla on alternate years to visit Vladivostok.
There may be an additional military exchange between the DPRK and Russia. Russian military officials would like to increase its number of sniper units, in the event that Jasmine winds should blow in its direction. RIA Novosti reports:
An RBC Daily source in the Defense Ministry said that each brigade will most likely have a sniper platoon. The source admitted that initially sniper rifles will be bought abroad. Contract sergeants, who will be hired starting in mid-2012, will form the core of the sniper corps.
“This is an absolutely correct decision, since the experience of the first and second Chechen wars has proven the importance and effectiveness of sniper groups in military units,” Igor Korotchenko, a member of the Defense Ministry’s public council, told RBC Daily. “It is important that the snipers attached to brigades will be armed with good foreign-made rifles, which promises higher effectiveness and greater shooting power.”
“Currently, the North Korean military has the largest number of snipers with ten sniper brigades,” Anatoly Tsyganok, director of the Military Forecasting Center at the Political and Military Analysis Institute, told RBC Daily. “Moreover, the North Korean military is the only in the world to have not only snipers but also 300 professionally trained suicide servicemen. Of course, Russia need not draw on that kamikaze experience, but it should analyze North Korea’s experience of sniper training because our next task will be to train a large number of snipers. We must decide where to recruit them, how to train them and who will train them.”
The Soviet school of sniper training was very good, but it gradually went into decline, analysts say. “Each sniper is unique. It takes years to train one, which means they must definitely be contract servicemen,” Korotchenko said. “We cannot hope for conscripted servicemen to fill the gap like they did in the past, when naturally gifted people were recruited from among conscripts and trained to shoot faultlessly from a Dragunov sniper rifle.”
Meanwhile, Stephen Blank penned a fascinating analysis of KJI’s trip to Russia for Eurasia Daily Monitor:
Moscow’s motives are also discernible. Medvedev has added a major new impetus to Russia’s desire to be seen as a key player in Northeast Asia, mainly through energy, and as a corollary of this standing, through its position in the six-party talks that had been less than prominent. Therefore, many Russian writers talked of possible breakthroughs stemming from this meeting and its agreements (The Voice of Russia, August 25; Moskovskiy Novosti Online, August 22). Likewise, these talks help foster a much less threatening atmosphere than was the case in 2010, when Moscow literally feared that the Korean peninsula was on the brink of war. Stability in Korea is a sine qua non of Russia’s East Siberian development strategy upon which its entire “Ostpolitik” stands. So, to the degree it can seemingly upgrade its standing and facilitate that stability, Moscow will seize any such opportunity.Third, as noted above, Russia is able to resume rivalry with China, albeit under the guise of a strategic partnership with China for influence in and over North Korea, and gain leverage over Beijing by actually building a gas pipeline to Asia. Chinese-Russian talks on a gas pipeline to China are deadlocked, while the idea of such a trans-Korean pipeline is almost a decade old (the idea of the railroad dates back further to Sergei Witte). These manifestations of an energy silk road or iron silk road, as they are called, are integral to Russian policy in Asia, but have been blocked due to the conflict over Korea. By receiving assent to a Korean pipeline, Moscow not only advances toward achieving multiple long-held goals, it also raises pressure on China (or at least thinks it does) with the fact that Moscow now has alternatives in Asia. And at the same time, it gains more access to North Korea – apparently, a Russian intelligence officer will mentor Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il’s son and successor, on world affairs.