Russia is spending far less on defense and more efficiently, having developed a series of advanced weapons that rivals are struggling to copy, President Vladimir Putin said teasing a ground-launched hypersonic missile.
The Soviet Union was always catching up to the US, when it came to the atomic bomb, the strategic aviation or the first intercontinental missiles, Putin recalled on Tuesday, during the meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry Board.
Today, we have a unique situation in our new and recent history – they are trying to catch up with us.
The president noted that “not a single country possesses hypersonic weapons, let alone continental-range hypersonic weapons,” but the Russian military is already equipped with Kinzhal air-launched missiles, while Avangard hypersonic gliders are currently being introduced in service.
Kalibr cruise missiles and Peresvet combat laser also recently boosted the capabilities of the Russian military, while the development of other state-of-the-art weapon systems such as the Sarmat ICBM, Poseidon long-range underwater drone, and the nuclear-powered Burevestnik cruise missile is “going according to plan.”
Putin also slipped in a revelation that work was underway on the ground-launched version of the Zircon hypersonic missile, previously only intended to be placed on surface ships.
Zircon is said to be virtually invisible to radar, due to the plasma cloud that appears around the projectile as it reaches the whopping speed of Mach 9, or around 10,000 kilometers per hour. The missile is capable of hitting targets at a range of over 1,000km.
Russia ranks only sixth in the world in terms of gross military spending – behind the US, China, Saudi Arabia, UK, France and Japan – but the country “must and will remain ahead of the others,” in terms of advanced technology, the president vowed. This will be achieved through “brains, intellect, better organization of work [and] minimization of theft and sloppiness.
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Kremlin on Monday accused the US of “crudely” trying to recruit Russian nationals to act as its agents, adding that this showed Washington was meddling in Russian affairs.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was asked during a conference call to comment on a report in the New York Times which said the F.B.I. and US Justice Department had tried unsuccessfully to recruit Russian aluminum tycoon Oleg Deripaska as an informer between 2014 and 2016.
“The fact is that the US in recent years is working crudely using its intelligence services, trying to recruit Russian citizens, exerting moral and other pressure on them.
“ I think these incidents in the most eloquent manner testify to the attempts to interfere in Russia’s internal affairs,” Peskov said.
President Donald Trump headed into his first summit with Vladimir Putin on Monday determined to forge a personal bond with the Kremlin chief, saying only “stupidity” by prior administrations had brought US-Russian ties to their present low.Hours before the Helsinki summit, Trump was asked if he would press Putin over Russia’s alleged manipulation of the 2016 election that brought the mercurial property tycoon to power. He said only: “We’ll do just fine.”
Democrats had called for the summit’s cancellation after new revelations surrounding the alleged election meddling.
But Trump has insisted it is “a good thing to meet”, as he attempts to replicate with Putin the sort of personal rapport he proclaims with the autocratic leaders of China and North Korea.
If the pair does find common ground, then the summit may take the heat out of some of the world’s most dangerous conflicts, including Syria.
But there are many points of friction that could yet spoil Trump’s hoped-for friendship with the wily former KGB spymaster.
Trump began the day’s talks by meeting Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto, who has loaned his harbour-front palace for the occasion.
But first, he fired a Twitter broadside at his domestic opponents, blaming the diplomatic chill on the investigation into alleged Russian election meddling.
“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted.
After a stormy NATO summit in Brussels last week, Trump was accused by critics of cosying up to Putin while undermining the transatlantic alliance.
But over breakfast with Niinisto, he insisted NATO “has never been stronger” and “never been more together” thanks to his insistence on all allies paying their fair share.
With Washington and Moscow at loggerheads over Ukraine, Iran and trade tariffs as well as Syria, even Trump has cautioned that he is not approaching the Putin summit “with high expectations”.
The brash 72-year-old billionaire has been president for 18 months while Putin, 65, has run Russia for the past 18 years.
In a weekend interview with CBS News, Trump admitted that Russia remains a foe, but he put Moscow on a par with China and the European Union as economic and diplomatic rivals.
The Kremlin has also played down hopes that the odd couple will emerge from their first formal one-on-one summit with a breakthrough.
Putin, who arrived in Helsinki Monday after playing host at the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday, has remained tense in the run-up to the summit.
On Friday his adviser Yuri Ushakov played down expectations, saying: “The state of bilateral relations is very bad…. We have to start to set them right.”
Giving up ground?
Indeed, after the bad-tempered NATO summit and a contentious trip by Trump to Britain, anxious European leaders may be relieved if not much comes out of the Helsinki meeting.
Those leaders are already fuming over Trump’s imposition of trade tariffs on various countries, including Russia.
Turning the tables, European Union President Donald Tusk said Trump was guilty of “spreading fake news” with his remark about foes, and warned that the trade tensions could spiral into violent “conflict and chaos”.
“Europe and China, America and Russia, today in Beijing and in Helsinki, are jointly responsible for improving the world order, not for destroying it,” he tweeted.
“I hope this message reaches Helsinki.”
Protesters have been on the streets of Helsinki to denounce the policies of both Trump and Putin. Greenpeace draped a giant banner down a church tower urging: “Warm our hearts, not our planet.”
Trump is also under pressure from Britain to press Putin over the nerve agent poisoning of four people in southern England.
One of the victims, Dawn Sturgess, has died and her 19-year-old son Ewan Hope told the Sunday Mirror newspaper: “We need to get justice for my mum.”
Many fear that Trump — in his eagerness to prove that he was right to seek the summit with Putin despite US political opposition — may give up too much ground.
Trump has refused to personally commit to the US refusal to recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea, leaving open the possibility of a climbdown linked to a promise by Putin to somehow rein in Iranian influence in Syria.
If Washington were to acquiesce in Russia’s 2014 land-grab, this would break with decades of US policy and send tremors through NATO’s exposed eastern flank.
And there will be outrage at home if Trump does not confront Putin over the election scandal.
But the US leader would not say whether he would demand the extradition of 12 Russian intelligence officers who were indicted last week by US special prosecutor Robert Mueller. (The Guardian)
Britain’s spy agencies cannot offer “absolute protection” against Russian cyber attacks and are instead focused on preventing assaults that would “most impact on our way of life”, in the wake of the Salisbury poisoning, GCHQ warns today.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Ciaran Martin, the head of the agency’s cyber defence unit, says it is a matter of “when not if” Britain faces a “serious cyber attack”.
He added that its focus is now on building “resilience” in “the systems we care about the most”, believed to be Britain’s power and water supplies, internet and transport networks, and health service.
This newspaper understands that senior representatives of utility, transport and internet firms and the NHS, have attended intelligence briefings at the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), on the specific methods – known as “attack vectors” – being used by Russia to target Britain’s critical national infrastructure, following the nerve agent attack in Salisbury last month.
Separately, the NCSC is understood to have written to the Government setting out urgent actions that departments and individual officials should take to protect Whitehall from cyber assaults.
These are in response to retaliatory measures against the Kremlin following the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury with a nerve agent last month.
Today, Mr Martin, the NCSC’s chief executive, publicly confirms that GCHQ is on “heightened alert” for “follow-up activity” following the Salisbury attack – an explicit link the agency fell short of making when it issued an unprecedented joint warning with the FBI last week about cyber attacks by the Russian Government.
“Turning off the lights and the power supply by a cyber attack is harder than Hollywood films sometimes make out,” he writes.
“But, we’ve seen enough malicious cyber attacks across the world, including against UK health services by a North Korean group last year, to know how services can be disrupted.
“Absolute protection is neither possible nor desirable; it’s about having more resilience in the systems we care about the most, those where loss of service would have the most impact on our way of life.
“We have said that it is a matter of when, not if, the UK faces a serious cyber attack. So last week we presented detailed plans to Government departments about the priority areas where the NCSC will work with them, industry and law enforcement to improve the cyber resilience of the most important systems.”
This newspaper understands that in addition to setting out the “priority areas” it will focus on protecting from attacks, the NCSC provided the Government with fresh advice on preventing attacks, based on the latest intelligence about attempted intrusions by Russian hackers.
The advice is believed to have ranged from highly technical measures that should be taken by particular departments, to more basic preventative steps that could be adopted by all civil servants.
Separately, the agency is understood to have called in representatives of organisations involved in the UK’s critical national infrastructure, for a series of briefings on ongoing activity in recent days, with the sessions including information on the warning signs to look out for, and advice on how to guard against the threats. (The Telegraph)
Russia has revealed it warned the US about “red lines” it should not cross before it launched airstrikes on Syria.
Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov is reported to have said that officials in Washington were contacted before last weekend’s strikes by the US, UK and France.
Mr Lavrov said: “There were military leadership contacts, between generals, between our representatives and the coalition leadership.
“They were informed about where our red lines are, including red lines on the ground, geographically. And the results show that they did not cross these red lines.”
Some 105 missiles were launched in response to a suspected chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma on 7 April that killed more than 40 people.
The Kremlin had threatened retaliatory action if strikes were launched – but it now appears there was at least some level of cooperation.
Russia, a key ally of Syria, has denied that any chemical attack took place.
International inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived in Damascus almost a week ago but are still waiting to visit the site of the suspected attack.
Mr Lavrov says that, following the airstrikes, it is morally free to deliver S-300 missiles to the Syrian regime.
He said: “Now, we have no moral obligations. We had the moral obligations, we had promised not to do it some 10 years ago, I think, upon the request of our known partners.
“We took into consideration their claim that this could destabilise the situation. Even though it’s purely defensive. Now we don’t have this moral obligation any longer.”
Military analysts say the S-300 surface-to-air missile system would boost Russia’s ability to control airspace in Syria, where Moscow’s forces support the government of President Bashar al Assad and could be aimed at deterring tougher US action. (Sky News)
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson acknowledged the threat yesterday, saying the UK had to take ‘every possible precaution’.
It is feared vital transport systems, water supplies, gas networks, banks, hospitals and even air traffic control could be hacked by Russia in response to the assault on Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons facilities.
Intelligence sources also fear the retaliation could involve the online release of so-called ‘kompromat’ – compromising information on MPs or other public figures.
The Syria crisis will dominate the return of Parliament today, with Mrs May facing the prospect of MPs voting against her decision to join Friday night’s US-led strikes to punish the Assad regime for the use of chemical weapons in Douma.
In a robust defence of her actions, the Prime Minister will deliver a statement to MPs insisting that Britain had to strike Syria ‘in our national interest’.
And she will invoke the Salisbury poisonings, saying that military action was essential to help deter any future use of chemical weapons ‘on the streets of the UK’.
On Saturday, Russia warned of ‘consequences’ after the air strikes.
Moscow has already launched repeated online assaults against the UK and intelligence chiefs fear they have the capability to hack into certain critical systems. Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Mr Johnson said: ‘I think we have to take every possible precaution.
‘When you look at what Russia has done, not just in this country, in Salisbury, attacks on TV stations, on the democratic processes, on critical national infrastructure – of course, we have to be very, very cautious indeed.’ A National Cyber Security Centre spokesman added: ‘We are always vigilant to attacks wherever they come from and we have a full spectrum of capabilities to draw on if required.’
Intelligence experts accept that the most likely response from Russia will be through covert cyber warfare. This would be on top of an avalanche of fake news planted by Moscow-run online trolls.
Last week, Ciaran Martin, director of the cybersecurity centre, warned that Russia had already repeatedly ‘hit’ the UK’s critical infrastructure. This includes vital systems such as water supplies, electricity and gas networks, hospitals, banks and transport.
And one security source told The Sunday Times: ‘We know what’s in the Russian playbook – kompromat-type material – we’re all prepared for that.’
In the hours after the strikes, Moscow’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, said: ‘The worst apprehensions have come true. Our warnings have been left unheard. A pre-designed scenario is being implemented. Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences.
‘All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris. Insulting the president of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible.’ Putin condemned the strikes as an ‘act of aggression against a sovereign state’ and accused the US and its allies of violating the ‘norms and principles of international law’. Putin even accused America of having ‘staged a chemical attack against civilians’ as a ‘pretext’ for the attack.
One Russian politician even compared Mr Trump to Adolf Hitler. Alexander Sherin said he ‘can be called Adolf Hitler No 2 of our time – because you see, he even chose the same time [of night] that Hitler chose to attack the Soviet Union’.
A Russian resolution at the UN Security Council condemning the air strikes was soundly defeated on Saturday night. Moscow gained support from only two countries, China and Bolivia. Four council members – Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Peru and Equatorial Guinea – abstained, while the remaining eight members voted against.
At the same time, Mrs May has faced considerable criticism for not recalling Parliament to gain approval for joining the US-led action.
Tory MPs returning from recess this week have been told they have to be in the Commons today and tomorrow in case there is a vote on her handling of the Syria crisis.
Last night, however, Downing Street officials said they believed a Commons vote was unlikely to take place – although they did not rule out the possibility that Opposition parties could force one later in the week.
Mrs May will tell MPs: ‘Let me be absolutely clear. We have acted because it is in our national interest to do so.’ (The Daily Mail)
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration plans to impose new sanctions against Russia on Monday to punish it for enabling the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons in its civil war, the latest in a series of actions by both sides underscoring the deterioration in relations between Moscow and the West.
The sanctions, coming shortly after American-led airstrikes against facilities linked to Syria’s chemical weapons, are meant to signal that the United States holds responsible not just the Damascus government of President Bashar al-Assad but also his patrons in Russia and Iran. President Trump has vowed that Syria’s allies will pay a “big price” for permitting his use of poison gas.
The sanctions were announced on Sunday by Nikki R. Haley, the ambassador to the United Nations and the administration’s leading public voice excoriating Russia in recent days. “They will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons use,” she said on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “And so I think everyone is going to feel it at this point. I think everyone knows that we sent a strong message and our hope is that they listen to it.”
Mr Trump has tried through most of his presidency to forge a friendship with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and avoid criticizing him personally even as a special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, investigated whether his campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 election. But in recent weeks, Mr Trump’s administration has taken increasing action against Russia, and the president singled out Mr Putin over Syria’s use of chemical weapons on Twitter and again in a televised speech on Friday night.
New sanctions on Monday would be the third round enacted by the Trump administration against Russia in the past four weeks. Last month the administration targeted Russian companies and individuals for intervening in the 2016 election and mounting cyber attacks against Western facilities. It followed that this month with penalties against Mr Putin’s inner circle, singling out some of Russia’s richest men and top government officials.
The strikes against Syria in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack that killed dozens in the Damascus suburb of Douma were designed to avoid provoking Russia into a response. By hitting just three targets and limiting the attack to a single night, the Trump administration seemed to keep it limited enough not to compel Moscow to lash back.
But Ms Haley said the administration was determined to make Moscow pay a price for supporting Mr Assad, noting that it had vetoed six United Nations resolutions related to Syria and chemical weapons.
“Assad knew that Russia had its back,” she said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Assad knew that Russia would cover for him at the United Nations and Assad got reckless and he used it in a way that was far more aggressive.” (The New York Times)
Russia lashed out at Britain tonight, warning: “You are playing with fire, and you’ll be sorry.”
Speaking at a special meeting of the UNSC, called by Moscow, permanent representative Vassily Nebenzia claimed the only way victims Sergey and Yulia Skripal could have survived a novichok attack was if an antidote was available nearby.
He told the council it was “lucky” that Porton Down, which he claimed was “well know for producing chemical weapons” was nearby.
Mr Nebenzia claimed Britain was waging a “coordinated campaign – prepared in advance – to discredit and delegitimize Russia.”
And he branded claims Russia was behind the attack, a “theatre of the absurd”, asking British representatives: “Couldn’t you come up with a better fake story?”
It comes as poisoning victim Yulia Skripal today said her strength is “growing daily” after the nerve agent attack which left her and her father in intensive care.
In her first comments since the shock chemical weapon atrocity, Russian citizen Yulia said the past month had been “somewhat disorientating”.
And British officials she had so far rejected the Kremlin’s offer of help.
The UN Security Council meeting will be streamed live here as it happens. Stay with us
On a day of dramatic developments, Russia’s ambassador to the UK suggested Britain could be behind “strange” Russian deaths on UK soil.
Alexander Yakovenko denied the Kremlin was behind the Salisbury chemical weapon atrocity.
Speaking at a bizarre 90-minute press conference: “We are not trolling, we are puzzled.”
Meanwhile, UK spooks are confident they have pinpointed the location of the Russian chemical weapons lab that manufactured the nerve agent used in the attack.
A Whitehall source told The Times: “We knew pretty much by the time of the first Cobra (the emergency co-ordination briefing that took place the same week) that it was overwhelmingly likely to come from Russia.”
Security Minister Ben Wallace insisted it was beyond reasonable doubt that Russia was behind the assault.
He told the BBC: “That nerve agent has been identified as being manufactured, we believe, in Russia and we believe that the Novichok type of nerve agent is only capable of being produced by a nation state – and then we add that to intelligence we hold, we add that to some of the police investigations that’s going on right now, and we can say that roads lead to Russia, that we are beyond reasonable doubt of the view that the Russian state is behind this.”
He also said that while Jeremy Corbyn had seen more intelligence “than the average backbench MP” through a Privy Council briefing, the Labour leader had been denied access to some material.
He added: “The circle of who gets to see very sensitive information is very small because if you leak it or it gets out, people’s lives are put at risk.”
Labour accused Mr Wallace of “playing party politics” by suggesting Mr Corbyn could not be trusted.
“This is completely irresponsible and another attempt by the Tories to deflect criticism from Boris Johnson’s blatant attempt to mislead the public,” a spokesman said.
“Ben Wallace should be acting in the national interest, not playing party politics with the country’s security.”
While the Kremlin stepped up efforts to undermine the UK’s case, Yulia Skripal revealed she was getting better following the March 4 attack.
In a statement issued by Scotland Yard, she said: “I woke up over a week ago now and am glad to say my strength is growing daily.
“I am grateful for the interest in me and for the many messages of goodwill that I have received.
“I have many people to thank for my recovery and would especially like to mention the people of Salisbury that came to my aid when my father and I were incapacitated.
“Further than that, I would like to thank the staff at Salisbury District Hospital for their care and professionalism.
“I am sure you appreciate that the entire episode is somewhat disorientating, and I hope that you’ll respect my privacy and that of my family during the period of my convalescence.”
Moscow has offered consular assistance to Yulia.
But a Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are pleased that Yulia’s condition has improved and paid tribute to the medical staff who have been treating her and Mr Skripal since they were attacked.
“We have conveyed to Ms Skripal the Russian Embassy’s offer of consular assistance.
“Ms Skripal is now able to choose if and when to take up this offer, but to date, she has not done so.”
Russian ambassador to London, Alexander Yakovenko denied that Russia had ever produced the nerve agent used in Salisbury.
He told a press conference at its London outpost: “The whole story about Novichok started in the United States in the ‘90s.
“It is nothing to do with Russia. We never produced it, we never had Novichok.
“This is a creation of some other countries and some scientists.”
And he raised fresh fears over the deaths of a string of Russian citizens on British soil over the past decade, some of which are set to be re-investigated by police.
Highlighting the March 12 killing of Nikolay Glushkov, 68, who was found dead at his home in south-west London after “compression to the neck”, the envoy said: “If we take the last 10 years, so many Russian citizens died here in the UK under very strange circumstances.
“He was strangled – as it was said officially – on March 12.
“He was a Russian businessman – a Russian citizen, not a British citizen – and his case is also classified. We don’t have any access to the investigation, we don’t know anything. We want to know the truth.
“My question is ‘Why is it happening here?’.”
Earlier, Russia’s foreign minister blasted the probe into the Skripals’ poisoning – comparing it to a “fairy tale” from children’s fantasy book Alice in Wonderland.
Sergei Lavrov likened the “unsubstantiated accusations” against the Kremlin to a scene in Lewis Carroll’s classic novel.
He said: “In Carroll’s book, the Queen demands that first the accused be sentenced and then the jury will make their verdict.”
He added that “adult people do not believe in fairy tales.”
Mr Lavrov spoke out as US officials were pictured leaving their Moscow embassy after being booted out in the latest tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions.
The envoys and their families, along with pets, were seen boarding coaches at their compound before setting off for the airport. (Mirror)
Russian President Putin watching the launch of a missile during naval exercises in Russia’s Arctic North aboard the nuclear missile cruiser Peter the Great in 2005.REUTERS/ITAR-TASS/PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE
Russia says it has tested a new nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile; Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the missile can defeat any US missile defences.
Putin and President Donald Trump have been squaring off over who has the better nuclear arsenal, with Trump reportedly telling Putin he would beat him in an arms race.
Putin and Trump seem on the path toward escalating an arms race that has already produced horrific nuclear devices.
Russia on Friday said it had tested a new type of nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile known by NATO as the “Satan 2.”
The country’s president, Vladimir Putin, has said the missile can defeat any US missile defences amid growing talk of an arms race with the US and President Donald Trump.
And the feeling of nuclear inadequacy may be mutual.
This is how you get an arms race
Putin’s nuclear chest-thumping “really got under the president’s skin,” according to a White House official cited by NBC News on Thursday.
On a recent phone call between the two leaders, which made headlines for Trump’s decision to congratulate Putin on his less-than-democratic reelection, Trump and Putin reportedly butted heads.
“If you want to have an arms race, we can do that, but I’ll win,” Trump told him, according to NBC.
Putin said in his address that Russia was working on more and more-varied nuclear weapon delivery systems than the US. Trump has also planned a few new nuclear weapons for the US, but they show a very different philosophy.
“We had a very good call,” Trump said last week of his chat with Putin. “I suspect that we’ll probably be meeting in the not-too-distant future to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control, but we will never allow anybody to have anything even close to what we have.“
The US and Russia once endangered the world with almost 70,000 nukes
Nuclear weapons stockpiles and inventories of the US and the Soviet Union/Russia from 1945 to 2006.Wikimedia Commons User: Fastfission
In saying he would not allow anyone to match the US’s nuclear might, Trump may have unknowingly articulated just how arms races spiral out of control. Because Trump won’t allow Russia to catch up with the US’s nuclear might, and Russia feels the same way, the two sides seem destined to continue building up arms.
But arms races have come and gone before. At the height of the Cold War, for instance, the US alone had 30,000 nuclear weapons, with Russia holding a similar number.
The one with Russia is just 11 miles, following the Tumen River and its estuary in the far northeast. There is one lone crossing, dubbed the “Friendship Bridge.” It opened in 1959 and offers the two nations a fairly basic rail connection. This week, amid a period of relative calm on the oft-tense Korean Peninsula, Russian representatives travelled to North Korea to discuss an idea: They should open another bridge.
Though the planning appears to be at a preliminary stage, it may show that Russia and North Korea are looking toward a trading future beyond sanctions and military tensions.
The two nations have long suggested a crossing that would allow vehicles to go between them without a lengthy detour through China. And Wednesday, the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East announced in a statement that the two sides would create a working group on a new crossing.
“There are 23 automobile checkpoints between [North Korea] and China, and not one with Russia,” the ministry quoted Ro Tu Chol, a North Korean minister, as saying during the meeting. “Currently, when importing goods from [Russia’s far east], they do not come across the border with Russia, but through China. This greatly extends the path.”
The Russia-North Korea summit caught the attention of NK News, which reported that the two nations would “push ahead” with the new border crossing. Anthony Rinna, an analyst on Russian foreign policy in East Asia for Sino-NK, told the North Korea-watching publication that the new border crossing could be used to “alleviate any unforeseen problems, such as logistical or technical glitches that may undermine North Korea’s rail links.”
The proposed bridge may be more noteworthy for its symbolic value than economic worth, said Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, an associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and co-editor of North Korean Economy Watch.
Trade between Russia and North Korea is insignificant, Katzeff Silberstein added, largely because of multilateral sanctions imposed by the United Nations, but “there also seems to be a belief that in the longer run, the trade will pick back up again.”
Russia and North Korea certainly have a trading history. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was easily North Korea’s most important financial ally, accounting for as much as half of North Korea’s foreign trade during the 1970s and 1980s. It was only after the end of communism that Moscow and Pyongyang drifted apart, with Russia’s new president, Boris Yeltsin, seeking a closer relationship with Seoul.
Things improved when Russian President Vladimir Putin took power: He visited Pyongyang in 2000 and received adulating praise in North Korean state media. However, the economic links between the two nations did not increase by much: In 2013, Russia amounted to just 1 percent of North Korea’s foreign trade, according to one study, far below China.
Though both sides have expressed hope for better economic ties, one detail — North Korea’s international pariah status because of its pursuit of nuclear weapons — has stood in the way. Russia has supported a number of U.N. votes on sanctions against North Korea; in late December, new multilateral sanctions limited the number of North Koreans who can work in Russia and other countries, arguably the two nations’ most important economic link.
Artyom Lukin, a professor of international politics at the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, Russia, said it was clear that trade between Russia’s far east and North Korea has been hit considerably in the past two years. He said that the railway bridge had once been important for transporting Siberian coal to the North Korean port of Rajin in the city of Rason, where Moscow owns a terminal.
“From this terminal, the coal is sent for export to Asian countries, mostly China,” Lukin wrote in an email. “At least, this was the case prior to the introduction of tough sanctions on [North Korea] in the latter part of 2017.”
Occasionally, foreign tourists cross the Russian border on trains from North Korea. It happens so infrequently, according to one traveller, that border guards seem confused by it.
For the time being, Lukin said, it’s hard to imagine Russian backers investing in a bridge. “The North Koreans will expect Russia to provide the funding,” he said. “However, no Russian investor, private or state-owned, will commit to the project unless the political risks related to North Korea subside considerably.”
If those risks subside, there are obvious benefits for Russia to invest in North Korea. While it is thought to be losing money, the terminal at Rajin port could provide Russia with an important regional foothold if sanctions were lifted. There are also hopes of eventually connecting to South Korea via rail — a move that could open up a freight route to and from Europe through Russia — or of a trans-Korean pipeline to provide Russian natural gas to both nations.
And so Russia appears to be keeping its economic options open in North Korea. Last year, a Russian firm gave North Korea a new Internet connection, apparently running fibre-optic lines over the railway bridge. Now the Russian state is planning a new bridge. “Sooner or later North Korea should come out of isolation,” Lukin said. “Then the bridge will be in high demand.” (The Washington Post)