Within the context of the emerging budding Russia-Iran alliance, where Moscow has placed its weight behind another rogue (and budding nuclear) threat to America and the West, Putin’s Kremlin openly seeks to deepen its ties and relationship with Kim Jong-Il’s North Korea, recently sanctioned for its nuclear weapons testing that was complete with Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders in attendance.
Russia’s newly appointed ambassador to North Korea Valery Sukhinin said, “Our goal is to develop and deepen these [Russian-North Korean] relations, despite the current situation.” Kim’s rogue communist regime, a former Soviet client state, maintained an outstanding debt of $8 billion to the now-defunct Soviet Union. To that effect, cash strapped Moscow is seeking remuneration of that debt to Russia, which views debts owed to the Soviet Union as now owed to the Russian state. “To develop our cooperation, we must settle debt for former loans,” Sukhinin said.
The sanctioned rogue regime in Pyongyang, heading the impoverished and underdeveloped but resource-rich state, continues to suffer the affects of massive investment into its nuclear weapons and long-range missile research and development that could have otherwise been used to further develop its own natural resource production industries. The regime has chosen instead to invest in illicit weapons trade and using its development as international extortion leverage to garner Western appeasement in the form of massive aid and relief, such as the agreement reached with the United States (and swiftly broken by North Korea) in the 1990’s, which included among other incentives increased fuel supplies and assistance, ironically, in developing its nuclear power program – which translated into furthering Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons development.
News of the Russian intent to solidify ties with the North Korean regime coincides with news of the North Korean sale of $28 million worth of domestically produced gold bullion, and the Russian mention of Pyongyang’s outstanding Soviet debt is surely not coincidental.
The North Korean gold bullion sales is seen as a loophole to the existing (and limited) UN sanctions on the already-closed state. If it can be sustained, the cash influx is believed to be enough to replace funds currently frozen in Asian banks as the result of US-initiated warnings over North Korean financial activities, including money laundering and the skilled counterfeiting of US currency. North Korea’s ability to sustain its gold trade in volume is questionable – though apparently not necessarily unlikely - considering the deteriorated state of its neglected mining operations, due in no small part to its priority investment in its weapons development programs instead.
Andrew Salmon warns in his Washington Times article that “if the amount earned from the Thai deal and the volumes sold in London in the 1980s and 1990s are any indication, Pyongyang should be able to comfortably generate sums equivalent to its frozen funds on a monthly basis.” Salmon notes the un-sanctioned foreign investment in North Korea’s mining industry, with investors seeking to develop profit from North Korea’s ample reserves of untapped gold ore. Such assistance also affords the regime a potentially increased cash flow that helps to negate international sanctions imposed for its dangerous behavior and threatening disposition.
For Russia’s part, Vladimir Putin is widely seen as attempting to reconstruct to former Soviet Union, in part by strong arming now-independent republics once part of the Soviet Union, such as through the pattern of sudden and punitive gas price hikes from Russia’s state-run Gazprom monopoly to the states during the bitter winter months, such as Georgia last year and now Belarus this year. Renewing and revitalizing its ties with North Korea – under the pretext of its $8 billion outstanding debt – can be seen as Russia’s attempt to also reconstruct the client nature of former Soviet communist satellite states.
Regardless of the degree to which Putin and the Russian state succeed in their gambit, from an American perspective, the concept of ‘Glasnost’ is an evaporated apparition. Considering its alignment with the anti-American Iranian regime – including the ongoing UN sanction-exempted construction of Iran’s nuclear facility in Bushehr - and current developments on the North Korean front, Russian leadership views itself as a direct competitor to the United States. Once seen as a potential ally in the global war on terror, Americans would do well to recognize this soberly and without reservation or delay.