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Updated: Is North Korea Responsible for Stability, as Kremlin Claims?


Russia -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walks past honour guards during a welcoming ceremony upon arrival at the railway station in the far-eastern Russian port of Vladivostok on April 24, 2019.
Yury Ushakov

Yury Ushakov

Russian presidential assistant

During the last few months the situation around the Korean peninsula has somewhat stabilized, and it became possible mainly thanks to the North Korea’s initiative to renounce nuclear missile testing and the closure of a nuclear test site.”

Misleading
North Korea’s commitment to denuclearization is questioned by the UN

[Editor's note: This fact check is updated with comments from Kelsey Davenport, director of nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association. Update adds context but does not change the verdict].

Ahead of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s meeting with President Vladimir Putin on April 26 in Russia’s far east, Putin’s assistant Yury Ushakov, credited Pyongyang with the current “somewhat stabilized” situation on Korean peninsula. Speaking at a press briefing in Moscow, Ushakov said the stabilization “became possible” thanks to DPRK’s “initiative to renounce nuclear missile testing and closing a nuclear test site.”

Russia — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arriving at a railway station in Khasan, Vladivostok, April 24, 2019
Russia — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arriving at a railway station in Khasan, Vladivostok, April 24, 2019

Ushakov apparently was referring to Kim Jong Un’s announcement in April 2018, that North Korea no longer needed to test nuclear weapons or long-range missiles and would close a nuclear test site – which, at the time, prompted an enthusiastic reaction worldwide, including in the U.S.and the United Nations.

The White House followed with two summits between the U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un: the first in June 2018 and later in February 2019.

SINGAPORE -- U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un meet in a one-on-one bilateral session at the start of their summit at the Capella Hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, Singapore June 12, 2018
SINGAPORE -- U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un meet in a one-on-one bilateral session at the start of their summit at the Capella Hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, Singapore June 12, 2018

The results of the June summit were largely seen as a breakthrough, with the two leaders signing the “Singapore agreement” pledging "the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.”

However, less than two months later optimism from the Singapore summit began fading after the media reported details of confidential UN report revealing that Pyongyang “has not stopped its nuclear and missile programs.”

The second U.S. ­– North Korea summit in February 2019 in Hanoi – often referred to as “historic” was unexpectedly cut short. Trump provided little explanation of what had taken place, saying at a press conference, "I could have 100 percent signed something today. We actually had papers ready to be signed, but it was not appropriate. I would rather do it right. I would rather do it right than fast."

VIETNAM -- U.S. President Donald Trump reacts during a news conference after his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at the JW Marriott Hotel in Hanoi, February 28, 2019
VIETNAM -- U.S. President Donald Trump reacts during a news conference after his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at the JW Marriott Hotel in Hanoi, February 28, 2019

Ushakov recognized the lack of results, but highlighted what Moscow portrays as willingness and interest in the dialogue. Following the Hanoi meeting, Trump continued to describe his relationship with Kim as “very warm.”

The director of nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association, Kelsey Davenport, responded to Polygraph.info's questions on reduced tensions.

"The situation of the Korean peninsula has stabilized over the past year and that is due in part to Kim's decision in April 2018 to halt nuclear and long range missile testing," she wrote to Polygraph.info.

The missile testing, she said violated international law. "Trump's vague and irresponsible threats" directed earlier to North Korea "contributed to the increased risk of conflict," she said.

"If anyone deserves credit for de-escalating tensions in the region, it is South Korean President Moon Jae-in," Davenport added. "His diplomatic outreach paved the way for the inter-Korean process and U.S.-North Korean negotiations."

The push to denuclearize of the Korean peninsula is marked by a series of hopeful signs and disappointments, rhetoric that ranges from “conciliatory to threatening. "

In brief, North Korea is not a party or signatory to any of the existing nine regional and global export control regimes and nonproliferation initiatives, or organizations dedicated to those goals.

The series of multilateral negotiations knows as the six-party talks included China, North Korea, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States – begun in 2003, preceded by the direct negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang beginning 1994.

South Korea - Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister and North Korean nuclear envoy Alexei Borodavkin (front R) talks with the South Korean envoy for six-party talks, Wi Sung-lac, (front L) in Seoul, January 28, 2011
South Korea - Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister and North Korean nuclear envoy Alexei Borodavkin (front R) talks with the South Korean envoy for six-party talks, Wi Sung-lac, (front L) in Seoul, January 28, 2011

Those talks continued for six rounds until April 2009 when Pyongyang reportedly test-fired a modified Taepo Dong-2 three-stage rocket resulting in a statement issued by the president of the UN Security Council calling the test a violation of Resolution 1718, further expanding sanctions against North Korea. In response, Pyongyang declared its withdrawal from the six-party negotiations.

NORTH KOREA -- North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile, Hwasong-14 is launched at an undisclosed place, in a photo release by North Korea's news agency in July 2017.
NORTH KOREA -- North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile, Hwasong-14 is launched at an undisclosed place, in a photo release by North Korea's news agency in July 2017.

Currently North Korea is estimated to have 10-20 warheads and the fissile material for an estimated 30-60 nuclear weapons and 20-40 kilograms of plutonium and 250-500 kilograms of highly enriched uranium with an annual estimated production of fissile material for 6-7 weapons.

Based on the record, we find Ushakov’s representation at his Moscow briefing to be misleading.

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