Through a Russian lens: Russian lawmaker sounds off on North Korea, Georgia

Kokoshin highlights the need for U.S.-North Korean talks and the potential for escalation with Georgia.

Russian lawmaker and former deputy defense minister Andrei Kokoshin discusses North Korea and Georgia in his interview with National Interest online editor Ximena Ortiz. His statements on the North Korean nuclear test reveal the differences of U.S.-Russian perception, while his statements on Georgia demonstrate the precariousness of that conflict.

Russia Points to America

Q: A variety of foreign policy experts in the United States see both Russia and China as the key to furthering the U.S. agenda regarding North Korea, applying, for example, multilateral sanctions. You certainly have a lot of neoconservatives pointing towards Russia and China, and then you have people like Thomas Friedman, who has certainly broken ranks with the administration on some issues. So you have this wide ideological spectrum pointing towards Russia. And there's a lot of curiosity of what Russia's perception is regarding North Korea as a confirmed nuclear power. What exactly is the Russian perspective? What should we do about North Korea now in wake of the test?

AK: First of all, the position of Russia and the People's Republic of China on this issue is very much the same as the position of the United States, Japan and South Korea. And Russia always was insisting on serious negotiations with the North Koreans. But the question is that the North Koreans are eager to have direct negotiations with the United States, as they had in the ‘90s. Actually, I think those were the successful missions, at least we didn't have such a failure in North Korean leadership as we have seen in recent years, when we haven't had these direct negotiations between the United States and North Korea. That's why I think that we should pursue the policy of dealing with North Korea on the nuclear issue both on a multilateral and also bilateral basis-direct efforts by the United States to cope with this diplomatically with this issue.

Q: That's interesting, because here you have many policy experts pointing at Russia and China and saying, they need to do this and that, and you are describing a strong Russian sense that the United States needs to become more involved, more adept at bilateral negotiations.

AK: I'm not saying who should do more. All of us should do a lot, and maybe more. But we should take into account the behaviour and position of the other side. We should take into account the desire of North Koreans to have direct talks and some security guarantees from the United States. And one should not forget also that the United States has allied relations with the Republic of Korea and Japan, and according to existing treaties , the United States is a provider of some security guarantees, both for Japan and for South Korea.

Q: There is a lot of emphasis here, professor, on sanctions, and I'm sure you've heard a lot about that during your stay in Washington. What is Russia's specific perspective on sanctions on North Korea-on multilateral sanctions?

AK: I think it's quite possible that all these five parties involved in the issue will agree on some kind of sanctions, that probably there will be also some disagreement on some kinds of sanctions that we heard from, for example, Beijing. I think that there is a principal consensus among these five powers, plus other members of the international community that it is not in our interest to have more nuclear powers in this area. That's why I think there's very important ground for our mutual understanding and joint actions in this area.

Q: In terms of joint action, what specifically could that be in terms of sanctions?

AK: That's an object for serious and intensive negotiations. Just recently Russian president Vladimir Putin had a very constructive telephone conversation with President Bush, so I hope that we will come to some kind of joint position before the issue is discussed at the Security Council.

A Nuclear Enigma?

Q: It's more difficult to denuclearize a country than to prevent it from going nuclear-so are we now confronting a more considerable challenge in denuclearizing North Korea?

AK: According to what I read, there are different opinions and different assessments of what has happened in North Korea.

Q: Yes, well there certainly are. What's your view of that? Has their nuclear capability been confirmed or not?

AK: I should look at concrete data. I haven't had a chance to do that. It's a very serious matter and I think it will take a great deal of time and expertise to find out what really happened. We have been confronted with similar situations in the past, and for some cases we still don't have a definite answer.

A Soft Landing?

Q: Is it, in your view, possible for the international community to somehow orchestrate a soft landing for North Korea-in other words, a gradual evolution toward some sort of representative government or some sort of reunification with the south?

AK: I think that our number one priority now-for the whole international community including Russia, China, Japan and South Korea, the countries that share the most interest and are most involved in this issue-is to address, first of all, the nuclear issue. To use some other problems would be a grave mistake-to think about political issues that are not connected to the nuclear problem.

So What?

Q: If they are, in fact, nuclear, why should we care about that? Why should we be so concerned?

AK: I think that the most serious issue is this movement of becoming a nuclear power, and its effect on other parties, on other actors of world politics. Whether it will stimulate other powers, other parties, to become nuclear is one of the most important issues right now.

The Russian-Georgian Face-Off