Russia wants to build another bridge to North Korea, so trade doesn’t have to go through China.
Kremlin officials travelled to Kim Jong-un’s lair this week to discuss the prospect of building a crossing over the Tumen River, which lies to the far northeast of the Korean peninsula.
Though planning is at a preliminary stage, experts say it reveals Russia and North Korea are looking toward a trading future beyond sanctions and military tensions.
There is currently only one lone rail crossing, dubbed the “Friendship Bridge”, which offers a limited service.
The two nations have long suggested a crossing that would allow vehicles to go between them without a lengthy detour through China.
This week 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.
Ro Tu Chol, a North Korean minister, said: “There are 23 automobile checkpoints between [North Korea] and China, and not one with Russia.”
He added: “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.”
Russia and North Korea have a trading history stretching back well into 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 — on his 2000 visit to Pyongyang he received adulating praise in North Korean state media.
The bridge announcement follows mounting tensions between Russia and the West — with some sources suggesting Putin is marshalling his forces for an all out attack.
Defence experts at the Atlantic Council have now laid out the “significant threat” from Russia on the edge of Europe.
It describes the challenge posed by Russia as needing a “critical” response from NATO to send more forces to the Baltic, Daily Star Online can reveal.
Fears of war have spiked on both sides, with each blaming the other for failing relations – such as Britain and Russia’s war of words over the poisoning Sergei Skripal.