(Project of the Kajima Institute of International Peace)

The EU States and Russia on North Korea Issues
- Expansion of Influence through Diplomacy: Attempts and Limitations -

By Professor Yuichi Hosoya
Faculty of Law, Keio University


The major actors addressing North Korea's nuclear development are indisputably the United States, China, North and South Korea. Both Russia and Japan are also member states of the Six-Party Talks, and historically they have been concerned with and involved in issues in the Korean Peninsula. However they actually exert no more than limited influence. Given that the Korean Peninsula's nuclear problem is a non-proliferation issue affecting significantly the entire international community, the United Kingdom and France, permanent members of the UN Security Council, can be said to have also a limited yet a noticeable influence over the situation.

At present two EU states --- the United Kingdom and France --- and Russia occupy three out of the five permanent member seats at the UN Security Council. Regarding the North Korea problem, the influence of these three countries is much more limited than that of the other two members --- the United States and China; but the three nonetheless hold a certain degree of influence in the adoption of any UN resolution. Meanwhile, the three countries consider that the United States and China should play a pivotal role to promote the denuclearization of North Korea, while their own roles are peripheral.

Yet Russia strongly advocates the resumption of the Six-Party Talks and opposes the holdings of negotiations with North Korea without her own involvement. Japan and Russia share many interests in the solution of North Korea issues by means of diplomacy and in the denuclearization of North Korea through the Six-Party Talks. In this sense, the relations of Japan and Russia based on the very closed tie between Prime Minister Abe and President Putin could be utilized as an important framework.

What is common to the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and the EU is their consistent position that international society should address the denuclearization of North Korea through diplomacy based on the UN Security Council Resolutions. The United Kingdom and Russia have diplomatic relations with North Korea, whereas France, along with Estonia, is an EU member state that maintains no diplomatic relations with North Korea. The United Kingdom and Russia possess information with a certain level of accuracy about North Korea through diplomatic channels.

The Czech Republic (former Czechoslovakia) and Poland have maintained diplomatic relations with North Korea since 1948, and as Eastern Bloc countries, they built lasting friendship and trust during the Cold War era. In particular, the Czech Republic exported, among others, a large amount of heavy machinery to the North in the early years of the Cold War era, and was an indispensable trading partner for North Korea. Thus, the EU maintains certain channels of communication with North Korea through those member states. In the past, the EU (then EURATOM) also participated in KEDO and made investments, and has been involved in the denuclearization of North Korea since the latter half of the 1990s. Particularly, Sweden has served as an intermediary between the West and North Korea, because of its long-standing relationship of trust with the North. The United States having no diplomatic relations with North Korea and Sweden has provided consular services, serving as a bridge between the United States and North Korea.

The EU takes an approach of "Critical Engagement" toward North Korea --- an approach which requires of the North strict efforts of denuclearization, while concurrently promoting a regular "political dialogue" aimed to provide humanitarian aid and to improve human rights situation in North Korea. This is in line with the EU policy of contributing to human rights and humanitarian issues.

Focusing on the EU states and Russia, which are actors addressing the North Korean denuclearization issue, along with the United States and China, and have substantial influence in the international community, this paper will discuss the recent development in North Korea's nuclear efforts and denuclearization.

1. The EU and North Korea

Currently, 26 out of 28 EU member states excluding France and Estonia have diplomatic relations with North Korea.1 However, the EU does not maintain any delegation office or station any ambassador in North Korea. The embassies of seven member states there (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Romania, Sweden, the United Kingdom) serve as the EU's delegation in turn,2 while the North Korean Embassy in the United Kingdom represents North Korea in the EU area3.

The EU adopted sanctions against North Korea for the first time in November 2006. They are the additional autonomous measures the EU took in response to North Korea's nuclear test, based on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718. The sanctions are to implement:

[1] the prevention of direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to North Korea of materials, equipment, goods and technology, which could contribute to North Korea's nuclear-related, ballistic missile-related or other weapons of mass destruction related programs;

[2] travel restrictions against and the freezing of funds and financial assets of individuals and organizations involved in the development of those programs, and

[3] the restriction of a wider scope of relevant trade, investment, transportation and financial services.

Besides these, cooperation for North Korea in such areas as nuclear technology, aerospace engineering, and advanced manufacturing technology are also subject to restrictions4.

On August 29, 2017, North Korea conducted a missile test and the launched missile flew over Hokkaido. Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the European Commission, condemned the North saying, "These actions constitute outright violations of the DPRK's international obligations, as set out in several UN Security Council resolutions, and represent a serious threat to international peace and security." Mogherini added to the effect that EU policy on this issue is quite clear: further economic and diplomatic pressures, unity with regional and global partners, thereby preventing a vicious circle of military confrontations that would create extremely dangerous situations not only for the neighboring regions but for the whole world5.

The EU came to demonstrate a more severe attitude toward the continuation of North Korea's provocative acts. Following North Korea's nuclear test on September 3, 2017 and a ballistic missile launch on 15th of the same month, the EU condemned on September 15 North Korea's actions as "an outrageous provocation" (Federica Mogherini). The EU added one individual and three organizations on a list for asset freezing and travel restrictions as part of sanctions against North Korea's nuclear program.6 The EU took increasingly strict responses in concert with the United States and Japan.

At the same time, however, the EU continued diplomatic efforts to prevent such tension from leading to war. In September 2017, a group of seven EU member states --- the United Kingdom, Germany, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria --- held official talks twice with the North in Pyongyang. To the embarrassment of the EU side, those who attended the meetings from the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs were no more than intermediate-rank officials. According to an EU diplomat, "They want to talk to the United States."7 He also added, "The North Koreans are starting to see the EU as a U.S. puppet, but we stress that we are an honest broker."

In response to North Korea's launching of another ICBM missile on November 29, 2017, the EU spokesman issued a statement that the launch is "a serious threat to international security." In the new year, the EU expanded its list of sanctions against North Korea in the wake of UN Security Council Resolutions. On February 26, in line with the UN Security Council Resolution 2397 (2017), the EU adopted further sanctions : reducing the maximum annual export to North Korea of its petroleum products from 2 million bbls to 500 thousand bbls; expanding target areas for embargo, and repatriating North Korean workers within 24 months.

2. Russia and North Korea

Now leave the EU aside for a while. What contributions has Russia thus far made toward the denuclearization of North Korea? Along with Japan, Russia as a member of the Six-Party Talks has agreed to "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula"(CVID). Both of the countries share the goal of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. This has been reiterated at the Japan-Russia summit meetings and Foreign Ministers' meetings.

While the Japanese government sticks to the denuclearization of North Korea based on CVID, the Russian government is cautious about this. Thus, they differ regarding the means of denuclearization. At the Japan-Russia Foreign Ministers' meeting on March 21, 2018, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono "expressed the view that there is a need to pay close attention to North Korea's actions in order to ascertain its intention to ‘denuclearize.' He also explained that Japan hopes to continue to apply maximum pressure together with Russia in order not to repeat past mistakes." Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov on the contrary seemed more inclined to deepen relations with North Korea. "On that basis, the two foreign ministers shared the view that amid moves to the upcoming inter-Korea summit meeting and US-North Korea summit meeting, they will coordinate closely on achieving the denuclearization of North Korea, which is a common goal of Japan and Russia."8 In addition, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Vladimir Putin confirmed at the Japan-Russia summit meeting on May 26, 2018 "Japan and Russia's common position of pursuing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. They also shared the view that they will support the holding of US-North Korea summit meeting and will work to ensure that the summit meeting proceeds successfully.9"

Meanwhile, Mikhail Galuzin, Russian Ambassador to Japan, expressed clearly that CVID is desirable. He remarked as follows: Russia demands complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The Six-Party Talks is the optimum venue to hold concrete discussion to realize CVID, because all the stakeholders --- North and South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan --- participated in the talks and achieved some positive results in the past. It is not until the Six-Party Talks is held following the US-North Korea talks that peace and stability will be established in the region.10 The Russian government shows some understanding of the Japanese government position of taking a hard-lined attitude toward North Korea, but prefers to take a more moderate approach.

When meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Pyongyang on May 31, 2018, Kim Jong-un said, "I highly appreciate the fact that Putin's leadership resists the 'dominism' [sic] of the U.S." Lavrov said at a press conference after a meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, "There can be no immediate denuclearization --- this should be done step-by-step," and supported North Korea's "step-by-step denuclearization." In his letter to Kim Jong-un delivered by Lavrov, President Putin proposed Kim's official visit to Vladivostok in the Russian Far East in September.11 Russia seems to wish to secure some influence while the situations in the Korean Peninsula are now developing as a result of the inter-Korean summit and the US-North Korea summit.

President Putin welcomed the inter-Korean summit talks and the US-North Korea summit talks toward the denuclearization of North Korea. On June 6, 2018 Putin affirmed that Moscow would be committed to trilateral economic projects between Russia and the northern and southern parts of the Korean Peninsula, chiefly concerning the construction of a railroad connecting Russia and North and South Korea. Furthermore, he commented on the next stage of negotiations with North Korea, calling for a shift to the Six-Party Talks, "The next stage is multilateral participation of all the interested states, chiefly regional ones, in the development of security guarantees for North Korea.12"

By strengthening the relationship with the North Korean government, Russia has so far created the foundation that would allow her to exercise substantial influence over the denuclearization problem. Kim Yong-nam, President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of North Korea, visited Moscow on June 14, 2018, met with President Putin at the Grand Kremlin Palace. President Putin positively assessed the US-North Korea summit talks and said that the easing of international tensions began in the Korean peninsula and that the prospect of peace has opened. Putin also expressed his intention to develop economic cooperation between Russia and North Korea, saying that he would play a positive role to achieve a peaceful settlement of the Korean Peninsula problem13.

3. Responses to the US-North Korea summit meeting

Major countries have basically welcomed the US-North Korea summit meeting, but are carefully watching its development from their respective positions.

While welcoming the move, the Russian government is attempting to secure a certain level of influence not to let developments progress while excluding her. Sergei Ryabkov, the Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, said, "Moscow expects the six-lateral negotiating format on settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue to become relevant again."14 According to TASS, a Russian top diplomat remarked, "Washington and Pyongyang are hardly able to resolve all the Korean Peninsula issues alone.15"

The British government also welcomes the US-North Korean summit meeting, while placing emphasis on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula based on CVID. Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said on June 12, 2018, "We welcome that President Trump and Kim Jong Un have held a constructive summit. This is an important step towards the stability of a region vital to global economic growth and home to thousands of British Nationals and important UK interests.... There is much work still to be done and we hope Kim continues to negotiate in good faith towards complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. The UK will continue to support the United States in its efforts to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.16"

The French government which does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea has been consistently harsh toward North Korea because of, among other things, the abject human rights situation in North Korea. Wary of an easy compromise with the North, President Macron said, "The international community must maintain its unity for tough talks with North Korea to pave the way for a denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."17 Regarding the US-North Korea summit meeting, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs made a positive evaluation of its achievements after the conclusion of the meeting. Nathalie Loiseau, Minister for European Affairs, mentioned, "It's clearly a significant step. Let's remember the situation a few months ago, with invective, threats and very strong regional and global concern about the situation in North Korea. This meeting in itself is a significant factor. We don't yet know anything about the document that was signed; we'll analyze it when it's made public. What we're all waiting for is the beginning of a negotiation on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula; that's the goal. I doubt everything was achieved in the space of a few hours, but it's a significant step.18"

The EU positively welcomes the current move toward the easing of tensions. On March 13, 2018, High Representative / Vice-President Federica Mogherini referred in a speech at the plenary session of the European Parliament to the inter-Korean summit scheduled for April as follows: "The Democratic People's Republic of Korea communicated --- through the voice of the South Korean special envoys --- its willingness to enter into negotiations on denuclearization. Reportedly, North Korea would refrain from testing nuclear weapons or missiles during these negotiations… the news coming from the Far East has given us some hope.19"

On April 4, 2018, the head of the Department of European Affairs of the North Korean Foreign Ministry Kim Song-gyeong visited the EU headquarters in Brussels, and held discussions with Gunnar Wiegand, the director of the department for the Asia-Pacific region of the European External Relations Service (EEAS). According to an EU spokesman, "The discussions focused on the state of bilateral relations between the EU and the DPRK, the sides exchanged views on the latest developments on the Korean Peninsula and the prospects for achieving the goal of a complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization."20 Following the US-North Korea summit meeting in Singapore on June 12, 2018, High Representative / Vice-President Mogherini released the following statement: "Today's summit meeting between the President of the United States of America and the leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) reaffirms our strong conviction that diplomacy is the only way forward towards lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. Pursuing the diplomatic track is often challenging, but it is always rewarding. This Summit was a crucial and necessary step to build upon the positive developments achieved in inter-Korean relations and on the Peninsula so far, thanks to the leadership, wisdom and determination of the President of the Republic of Korea, Moon Jae-in." "The ultimate goal, shared by the entire international community and as expressed by the United Nations Security Council, remains the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The Joint Statement signed by the U.S. and DPRK leaders today gives a clear signal that this goal can be achieved.21"


The influence of the EU states and Russia in the Korean Peninsula is circumscribed compared with that of the United States and China. However, as the problems of Peninsula area are an international issue that would greatly affect the peace and stability of the international community, the United Nations Security Council's permanent members --- the United Kingdom, France and Russia --- will continue being involved. Japan holds a two-plus-two dialogue attended by foreign and defense ministers with each of these three countries, and has strengthened cooperative relations in the area of diplomacy and security. Through the dialogues with these countries, the Japanese government will therefore be able to wield some influence over the recent movement of the international society.

The United Kingdom, France and Russia often wish to resolve the Korean Peninsula problem through diplomatic negotiations and often refer to the necessity for North Korea to comply with CVID. This is exactly what Japan has so far required. Russia has more common with North Korea than the UK and France, but the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is also a critical concern for Russia's security. Therefore, it is important for Russia to minimize discrepancies in views with Japan and to utilize negotiation frameworks such as the Six Party Talks where both Japan and Russia can participate.

At present, it is difficult to predict where the US-North Korea negotiations will proceed. Regarding the intention of the North Korean government, we are obliged to analyze it with only limited information. In addition, President Trump's diplomatic actions are full of unpredictability. In such circumstances, the Japanese government will need to strengthen its relationship with the EU countries and Russia and uphold the unity of the international community to advance North Korea's denuclearization processes.

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