Russia, North Korea to hold first joint navy exercises

Space Wire

MOSCOW (AFP) Oct 09, 2002

Russia said on Wednesday it would hold its first joint naval exercises with North Korea next month, in the latest example of Moscow's efforts to stamp its authority on Northeast Asia and act as a counterweight in Pyongyang's standoff with Washington.
Russian Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Viktor Fyodorov made the announcement in Tokyo, where he was attending a conference of naval commanders from the Asian Pacific region.

"We are supporting good, friendly relations with our close neighbors -- the two Koreas," Fyodorov was quoted as saying.

He said the Russian navy would make port calls to both South and North Korea, and conduct joint military exercises with each side.

"This is our plan, and we are preparing for these exercises very seriously," he added, without disclosing further details.

The admiral pointed out that the Russian navy carried out regular joint exercises with the navies of the United States and China.

Russia and North Korea have never before held joint ground or naval military exercises, according to Russian military officials contacted by AFP.

Relations between Moscow and Pyongyang collapsed following the fall of the Soviet Union, when Russia turned away from its Stalinist ally in favor of establishing warmer relations with the economically powerful South.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin has proved to be a key interlocutor for North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong-Il, meeting him twice in just over a year.

Russia has also claimed a central role in trying to restore peace dialogue between the two Koreas as well as mending Pyongyang's faltering relations with Washington.

The naval exercises "are simply to demonstrate that Russia has good relations with North Korea, and should be regarded as the bridge between Pyongyang and Washington and North Korea and the outside world," commented Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the USA-Canada Institute.

Kim's latest visit to Russia in August gave rise to speculation that in addition to strengthening the North Korean economy, Kim is seeking to better his hand diplomatically after seeing his country branded by the United States as part of an international "axis of evil."

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov last month insisted that Moscow would maintain its military-technical cooperation with Iran and North Korea -- which along with Iraq form an "axis of evil" according to Washington -- in line with its economic interests and its commitment to non-proliferation.

"Our cooperation with North Korea depends only on that country's economic possibilities," he said.

In the military-technical sphere this currently amounted to repair and modernisation of Soviet-era military equipment, Ivanov noted.

North Korea's military equipment is largely based on Soviet-made weapons and technology, due to the countries' military ties dating back to the 1950-53 Korean War.

North Korea has requested new tanks, fighter jets, warships and S-300 ground-to-air missiles but does not have the money to pay.