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The Brief – North Korea: The future of Russia?

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The supreme leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, is on a protracted visit in Russia’s north, where he met President Vladimir Putin and was taken to visit a ‘Disneyland’ of military paraphernalia.

Reportedly, both Kim and Putin have long shopping lists.

North Korea may be a small power compared to Russia, but it possesses the conventional munition and armament that the Russian army is getting short of in Ukraine.

Russia has sensitive nuclear, missile, submarine and aviation technology coveted by Pyongyang, which wants to take its arsenal to the next level.

And North Koreans need food. The excessive militarisation of this country of 26 million has frequently pushed the population to the brink of starvation.

I’m not aware of any North Korean jokes, but a joke in Soviet times said that the coat of arms of the USSR should be Cupidon: naked but armed.

Brothers in arms and brothers under sanctions, the two regimes are happy together, perhaps more today than before.

North Korea’s history is a family affair: Its founder and first leader, Kim Il Sung, was Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, who ruled from 1948 to his death in 1994. His son, Kim Jong Il, inherited the power and ruled until he died in 2011, and was succeeded by the incumbent Kim.

I was a teenager, but I remember when Romania’s communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu visited North Korea at the invitation of Kim Il Sung in 1971.

Or rather, I recall what happened in Bucharest when he returned. Ceausescu was stupefied by how North Koreans demonstrated their enthusiasm for their leader and his high guests. So, he gave instructions that the Romanians greet his motorcade in the same way.

Ceausescu wanted Romanians to jump for joy (literally) waving flowers, as North Koreans were obliged to do to demonstrate their cheerfulness.

The place where I lived in Bucharest, boulevard Aviatorilor, leads to Ceausescu’s palace and is the route of all official motorcades. Indeed, I watched Romanians being brought there hours in advance and trained how to demonstrate North Korean-style gushing gratitude to the leader.

Yes, Ceausescu had North Korea as a model, and Romanians suffered immensely until the Berlin Wall fell.

Putin reportedly accepted Kim Jong Un’s invitation to visit North Korea, and we can only speculate what North Korean experience Russia’s leader – who is thirty years older than his Korean counterpart – might decide to bring home.

Because Putin’s Russia is already deeply engaged on a trajectory that leads to a society of the North Korean type.

To survive, Putin’s regime is rapidly moving from the authoritarian to the totalitarian model epitomised by North Korea.

Possibly, Putin may be encouraged by the fact that the Kim regime, as grotesque as it may look, has survived unchallenged for more than 75 years, mainly thanks to its nuclear arms and ballistic missiles.

For Putin, who is not a visionary and has no ideas for his country’s future, the only aim is his continuing grip on power, even if the country devolves into anarchy. Russia has passed legislation to keep Putin in power until 2036, but unlike the Kims, Putin doesn’t have a plan for who should inherit power when he dies.

Internationally, Russia has already become a pariah state, not so different from Iran or North Korea. If Russia still mobilises followers in Africa or Latin America, this is thanks to the fact that the population in far-away places is ill-informed about Europe and is easy prey for Russian propaganda.

The big question is why most Russian citizens seem to accept being taken on this road to nowhere. Possibly, elements of the answer can be found in Russia’s history, in the tradition of obeying the leader, be it a czar or a communist dictator, or their current embodiment.

Is it possible to imagine that Russian citizens would accept to live like North Koreans after we’ve seen that they like Western luxuriousness?

Western opulence goes together with free market economy and democracy, but many Russians have a bad opinion of democracy, which they experienced briefly under Boris Yeltsin. They see it as an instrument of the West to overpower and tame Russia.

Putin has met no internal opposition while he rehabilitated and heroised Stalin. Under Stalin, the grandparents of modern Russians lived as miserably as today’s North Koreans.

We don’t know if this is what most Russians want, but Russia is clearly going in this direction.

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The Roundup

European Parliament lawmakers have cautiously welcomed the European Commission president’s latest defence strategy announcement as a step in the right direction but stressed the need to have sufficient funding and member states on board.

French Interior Minister G?rald Darmanin travelled to Rome on Monday to “help Italy hold its border” as the Italian island of Lampedusa faces a major influx of migrants.

The European Parliament has called on the EU to give European citizens a stronger voice and more instruments to influence the Union’s decision-making, as well as institutionalise participatory and deliberative processes.

The European Union presented Sunday an emergency plan for Italy to help it handle migrant arrivals after a record number of people landed on its island of Lampedusa over the past week.

The EU insisted on Friday that its economy could survive any retaliation from China, after Beijing warned that Brussels’ probe into Chinese electric car subsidies would harm trade relations.

Look out for…

UN General Assembly, New York, Monday-Friday.
EU General Affairs Council on Tuesday.
Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni has exchange of views with Parliament’s FISC committee.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Alice Taylor/Zoran Radosavljevic]



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