Russian President Vladimir Putin raised many eyebrows in the west recently by confirming that he had invited the pariah North Korean Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, to come to Russia in May. Some saw this as a measure of the degree of desperation of Russia as US and EU economic sanctions take their toll. Far from a signal of desperation, however, it looks to this observer as a very shrewd move that could rob Washington of one of their favorite weapons.
As we noted in an earlier article, “Why Now North Korea?,” the rush by the Obama Administration to put new sanctions on North Korea on unproven allegations she was behind recent hacker attacks on Sony Pictures, a Japanese-owned company, stinks of a false flag operation by the usual suspects—the neo-conservative warhawks increasingly dominating Obama Administration policy since the 2012 war against Qaddafi’s Libya. I believe that there are very different reasons behind the rush to punish North Korea.
In a private discussion over dinner at the World Economic Forum at Davos Switzerland back in the 1990’s, where I was present as a free-lance journalist, I had occasion to have a fascinating talk with the late James R. Lilley about world events. He was at Davos, as he privately confided, to “baby sit” a delegation of generals from China’s Peoples’ Liberation Army. The year was 1998 as I recall and China’s leaders were being wooed by the West.
Over a glass of fine Swiss wine, we talked about China and Asian politics. Perhaps because he was enjoying what he said was a very informed discussion of world politics, he never got around to asking more about who I was. I was fine with that. The talk came to North Korea which then was subject of much consternation over its nuclear weapons program. At one point Lilley blurted a profoundly useful piece of intelligence. He said to me, “If North Korea did not exist, we would have to create it to give us the excuse to keep our Seventh Fleet in Japan after the end of the Cold War.”
Lilley was no novice to the games of US geopolitics. He, like his old friend George H.W. Bush, had been a member of the Skull & Bones secret society at Yale University. He was fluent in Mandarin having been born to missionary parents in Shanghai, China. He served in the CIA as leading China expert for 30 years and later became US Ambassador to Beijing during the (US-orchestrated) Tiananmen Square student protests of 1989. Lilley knew what Washington Asia politics were.
So with that insider comment in mind, let’s look at what could possibly be behind the sudden demonization, yet again, of North Korea.
Putin’s invitation and pipeline geopolitics
In terms of foreign policy political and diplomatic initiatives, Russia’s Vladimir Putin in recent months has been anything but isolated as Washington’s neo-cons would have hoped. He has made brilliant strategic energy deals with China, with India, economic deals with Brazil, with the BRICS states, created the new Eurasian Economic Union with Kazakhstan, Belarus and Armenia—the union Ukraine would have joined had the US not stated its violent February 2014 coup in Kiev.
On December 19, a Kremlin spokesman confirmed that President Putin had invited North Korea’s 32-year old Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un (I guess of Washington can have a Supreme Allied Commander of Europe NATO, they call have their Supreme Leader). Kim has been invited to attend the especially symbolic 70th anniversary celebration of the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II on May 9 this year.
Few Americans were ever told by their government or mainstream media that Washington largely owes the then-Soviet Union, which lost at least 26 million of its citizens in World War II, a debt of gratitude for the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. The history of wars is, as Churchill said, written by the victors.
At first glance it might seem Putin is dragging the bottom of the geopolitical barrel, extending an open hand to the world’s second most demonized current leader after Putin himself. It would also be Kim’s first visit outside his country since assuming the Supreme Leader mantle in 2011.
There are very real economic reasons, however, behind Putin’s open hand. Russia would like to bring a new gas pipeline to deliver Russian gas to South Korea. The best way to do that would be via North Korea.
The recent overture to North Korea is no knee-jerk panic move by Russia. It is a carefully-planned part of Putin’s “Eurasian Pivot,” Russia’s strategic reorientation of its trade and economic and political ties from the fruitless western attempts that only bring wars and sanctions from Washington and Brussels, to the Eurasian heartland, the one geopolitical surface of our Earth capable of creating a genuine counterpole to the declining Sole Superpower. Last April, the Russian Duma and Putin approved the cancellation of a significant $10 billion of North Korea’s Soviet-era debt. Have you ever heard of a case of the US Treasury writing off anyone’s debts?
That represented a write off of some 90% with a remaining $1.09 billion to be repaid during the next 20 years, in equal instalments every six months. The outstanding debt owed by North Korea will be managed by Russia’s state development bank, Vnesheconombank. Russia announced that the money could be used to fund mutual projects in North Korea, including a proposed gas pipeline and a railway to South Korea.
Russian nuclear diplomacy
There is another element to the recent warming between Russia and North Korea. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last April North Korea is ready to resume stalled international talks on its nuclear program. North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the U.S. began talks in 2003 to rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons, but they were suspended after Pyongyang tested nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009.
Then on January 1, Kim Jong-un announced that he was open to “highest level talks” with South Korea. In his New Year state TV broadcast, Kim stated, “We should write a new history in North-South ties. There is no reason not to hold the highest-level talks.” It was a reply to an offer several days earlier from South Korea’s minister in charge of inter-Korean affairs Ryoo Kihl-Jae, who proposed January as a tentative date. The last North-South talks had been in February 2014. Curiously, each time in recent years when relations seem to hint of some rapprochement, some bizarre “event” always intervenes to block it. Perhaps the ghost of James Lilley?
Russia as Korean peacemaker?
Interesting in this context is a recent paper by Saker contributor, Larchmonter 445, The Double Helix: China-Russia, noting that there were recent highest level talks in Beijing between Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. That was after Shoigu met with his counterparts in the military and defense ministry of China. The paper posits, “Imagine if General Shoigu and Premier Li Keqiang were discussing North Korea. Background: Putin has been reaching out to Glorious Leader Kim’s regime, and we know the deal Putin would want to get done with Pyongyang’s regime: Give up the nukes, and the Double Helix will protect you…” China and Russia’s nuclear umbrella would obviate the need for the North Korean nuclear arsenal.
That would indeed be a game-changer, one that the Washington warhawks would view with apoplexy. James Lilley would no doubt turn in his grave. As Larchmonter put it,
Russia could be seen as even larger than largest geographically. Her pipelines, highways, airports, seaports and weapons systems would be connecting and protecting nations from the Arctic to the Indian Ocean, as well as from the Eastern Europe borders to the Kurill Islands and Vladivostok, touching China for border crossings at Zabikalsk-Manzhouli and Pogranichy-Suifenhe in Heilongjiang Province along the Black Dragon/Amur River.
Russia and China are the founders of the Eurasian Economic Marketplace of 3.5 billion (half the world). It has a thirty-year initial mission. And during those thirty years they will have built the New Silk Road, the Maritime Silk Road, the Eurasian Economic Belt, and lifted Iran, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Stans of Central Asia, Mongolia, the Southeast Asian nations and probably, fixed parts of Ukraine, and parts of Eastern Europe, some southern European nations and, maybe, some North African nations.
Would that not be a more intelligent and human alternative to the neo-cons and their endless wars, economic depressions, deindustrialization so that the 0.1% of the ultra-rich can enjoy unprecedented power at the expense of us all?
Indeed something very big is underway involving China, Russia, South Korea and North Korea. It is not a new Korean War, that’s clear. This is the best explanation I can see for the Obama Administration’s renewed sudden demonization of North Korea using the flimsy Sony Pictures hack as pretext.
The new Korean sanctions and demonization are a desperate move by an increasingly desperate cabal that hijacked what was left of US Constitutional democracy after September 11, 2001 when George W. Bush convinced a terrorized US Congress to annul the Bill of Rights with the Patriot Act and other de facto fascist police-state measures in the name of Bush’s Holy Crusade against “terror.” It looks like 2015 will be a fascinating chapter in world development, perhaps even toward a more harmonic way for human beings to live together without thinking of more ingenious ways to kill and exterminate each other in the name of something no one really understands in the present moral confusion.
F. William Engdahl is strategic risk consultant and lecturer, he holds a degree in politics from Princeton University and is a best-selling author on oil and geopolitics, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.