Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Politics and International Studies

Research Student: Dr Tim Page

Russian Policy towards North Korea: the search for a post-Soviet identity on the Korean Peninsula

Photo of Dr Tim Page

Russia's foreign and security policies towards North Korea (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, DPRK) have undergone a substantive transformation over two, contrasting periods. In the first, between December 1991 and October 1994, the official aim of Russian policy towards the DPRK was an "inevitable distancing off" from extensive Soviet era ties and the bilateral relationship between the two states deteriorated accordingly. During the second, conversely, which began in October 1994 and continues to the present, Russian policymakers have sought to re-establish close political, military and economic relations with North Korea, a goal that has been attained in the 21st century.

The divergent Russian responses to the two North Korean nuclear crises, which this shift in policy has produced, suggest that it may have wider consequences for the Northeast Asian security situation. In the first, which began when the DPRK announced that it intended to withdraw from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) on the 12th March 1993, Russia placed pressure on the regime to retract its stated withdrawal and abandon its nuclear weapons programme. Yet in the second, ongoing crisis, which began when the DPRK formally withdrew from the NPT in December 2002, Russia has pursued an independent policy that has been critical of US behaviour and far more supportive of Pyongyang.

My research examines the development of Russian policy towards North Korea over the two periods referred to above. It addresses two broad questions; (1.) How can we explain change in Russian policy towards the DPRK since December 1991? (2.) What implications does Russian policy present for the actors involved in resolving the ongoing North Korean nuclear crisis?

Existing accounts of Russia's post-Soviet policies towards the DPRK argue that Russian objectives differ minimally from the USSR in seeking to use North Korea to increase Moscow's leverage over Western Europe and the US, and project Russian Great Power status in the international system. However, this dominant, classical realist interpretation of Russian policy does not explain why Russia sought to abandon extensive ties with the North Korean regime in the late Soviet and early post-Soviet periods, or the process by which Russian policy has changed.

My thesis is informed by a theoretical approach which emphasises the role played by identity ideas in the formulation of Russian policy towards North Korea. The ontological security framework used to inform the research claims that Russia's policies between 1991 and 1994, and from 1994 to the present, are best understood in terms of Russia's efforts to secure contending ideas on national identity through policymaking in Northeast Asia. On the basis of this theoretically informed analysis, the thesis concludes by discussing the possible implications of Russian policy towards the DPRK for the actors involved in efforts to resolve the ongoing nuclear crisis.  

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