On Tuesday, November, 17, 2015 the Ambassador of Russia to the Republic of Korea A.A. Timonin delivered a lecture at the Asia Society Korea Center, dedicated to the a short overview of the Russian-Korean relations and prospects for its further development.
Full text of the lecture:
Dear colleagues, dear friends!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I’m pleased to have the opportunity to address esteemed members of the Asia Society Korea Center. I would like to arrange our today’s meeting as a short overview of the Russian-Korean relations followed by a brief account of prospects for its further development. Despite the fact that it was just the 25th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations that we celebrated recently, our neighborly ties are rooted in a much deeper past.
Since early XIX century Russian merchants, travelers, diplomats and scientists began establishing contacts with our Far Eastern neighbor. In 1805, the famous Russian navigator Ivan F.Kruzenshtern 002, gathered valuable data on Korean coast while undertaking exploration of seas in the Far East, thus supplementing the contributions of European travelers made in late XVI and early XVII centuries.
A new stage in the establishment of Russian-Korean relations came in 1860, when the South Ussuri region had become a part of Russia according to the Beijing agreement with China 003. Russia was one of the first foreign countries that entered Korean peninsula during the late Joseon period, and it did so with the intentions that were not expansionist, but peaceful, as it was indicated by the conclusion of the bilateral Treaty of Amity and Commerce in 1884.
Since that time representatives of the Russian Empire visited Korea more frequently, making a significant contribution to the establishment of bilateral relations, as well as to developments in diverse spheres of life in Korea. The first Consul General of the Russian Empire, Karl Ivanovich Weber (1841-1910) became widely known among the foreign community living here. After arriving in Seoul in 1884 he managed to establish so close friendship with king Gojong 004 that when the Russian government decided to transfer Weber to another post, Gojong wrote a letter to the Russian Emperor Nicholas II, highly appreciating the activities as a diplomat and requesting to keep him in Korea as Russian ambassador. As a result,
Weber retained at his post, and his successor-to-be was sent to Tokyo.
It is widely known that after the brutal murder of king Gojong’s wife (Queen MIN) the Korean monarch had received asylum in the Russian legation 005 for more than a year (1896-97) and thus with active assistance by Karl I.Veber
managed to prolong the existence of an independent Korean state for some time. By the way, it was during this period that the king took much liking of coffee that
the wife of the Russian legations’ head used to prepare for him every morning. Later he had a special pavilion for taking coffee 006 build in the Deoksugung palace, the event that marked the beginning of the beverage’s popularization among native residents of Seoul.
Another fact that is less familiar to the general public - the details of the Queen Min murder became known largely through the testimony of another Russian citizen, Afanasy Ivanovich Seredin-Sabatin 007, the court architect. He was in the palace on the night of the crime, and turned out to be one of the few who dared to expose those responsible for this atrocity. This extraordinary man spent over 20 years of his life in Korea, having arrived here in 1883 at the age of 23 with his 16-year-old wife. It is noteworthy that Seredin-Sabatin’s son Peter became the first European born in this country (April 12th, 1885). Russian architect made a significant contribution to the development of Korean urban art and managed to deserve the royal family’s special favor. His most famous project, the Seoul Independence Gate 008, became one of Korean capital’s symbols. He also designed the Russian and French legations buildings, the general outlay of Incheon,
a number of buildings in the royal palaces.
At that time, our country made efforts to keep up the independence and sovereignty of Korea. An extensive program of bilateral cooperation was being carried out. It included the construction of Korean telegraph lines, Russia’s assistance in training of the kings’ personal guards, as well as cavalry, combat engineers and other military units, assistance in mining and railroad construction. Another interesting point to mention: in the framework of such cooperation in 1896, the concession to cutting down and export timber on the island of Ulleungdo and in areas of boarder rivers Yalu and Tumen was granted to a Russian merchant of Swiss origin from Vladivostok July (Jules) Briner, who was the grandfather of the famous American actor Yule (July Borisovich) Brynner.
Gaining ground by Japan on the Korean peninsula at the end of the XIX century was opposed by Russia interested in the formation of independent and neutral Korea, led to a sharply heightened rivalry between St. Petersburg and Tokyo. It resulted in the Russian-Japanese war of 1904-1905, that was started with Japanese 11 warships fleet launching a surprise attack at the Russian cruiser “Varyag” 009 and gunboat “Koreets”, standing in the neutral Korean port of Chemulpo.
In 2004, a monument was opened it Inchon port commemorating the heroic deed of Russian sailors 010, who refused to surrender to the superior forces of the enemy and took an unequal battle. Noteworthy are narrations left by contemporaries on the reaction of crews of other countries warships anchored in the Korean port. When “Varyag” and “Koreets” commanders decided to engage in a battle with the Japanese squadron and the ships moving out of the Chemulpho harbor were passing by the French, English and Italian cruisers, their crews, expressing admiration for the courage of Russian sailors, lined up on their decks and saw the Russians off with the shouts of “Hurrah!”, while the Italian cruiser «Elba’s» military band played the Russian national anthem.
Russia’s defeat in the war and the conclusion of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty in 1905 actually meant Russia’s giving up of its’ long-term active confrontation with Japan for the preservation of the sovereignty of Korea. In 1910,
after the annexation of Korea by Japan, the Russian diplomatic mission in Seoul was transformed into a consulate and then became the Consulate General of the USSR 011, which existed in Seoul until 1946.
During Japanese rule in Korea (1910-1945) many patriots escaping persecution were forced to hide in the Russian Far East. Here we touch upon
another very important aspect of Russian-Korean ties. In January 1864 the first 14 Korean families have crossed the Tumen river and founded the Tizinhe village in the Russian Maritime province. Subsequently thousands of their fellow countrymen, fleeing from hunger and misery, took refuge in Russia where they got a chance for a new life 012. Russian Koreans have made a significant contribution to the development of our country, they also fully shared with other peoples of Russia the heavy and sometimes tragic ordeals that fell in the XX century.
After liberation of Korea from Japanese colonial rule in August, 1945 the country entered a new stage in its history. It should be noted that the role of the former Soviet Union in the liberation of Korea and its post-war development is sometimes interpreted with significant distortions. A case in point is, for example, the ignoring of the Soviet army’s contribution to the liberation of Korea. We also often encounter statements that the split of Korea was a result of “occupation” of the country by the Soviet Union and by the United States.
In this regard I would like to emphasize that the USSR entered the war with Japan on August 9, 1945, three months exactly after Nazy Germany’s surrender, as it was prescribed be the Yalta agreement with the Allies. The Soviet military held an operation unique in its scale 013. While the Japanese army casualties totaled 84 thousand men, soviet forces lost 12 thousand people including more than three thousand soldiers and officers killed in action on the Korean peninsula, bringing the long-awaited independence to its people.
It is also important to bear in mind that in the framework of the joint Soviet-American Commission on Korea in 1946-1947 attempts were being made to assist the formation of a unified Korean state both by the USSR and the US, but such attempts turned out to be unsuccessful.
After the Korean War the USSR’s policy towards the Korean peninsula was focused on the development of relations with North Korea. Relations with the South have been suspended since the establishment of the Republic of Korea for more than 40 years.
The establishment of diplomatic relations between the USSR and the Republic of Korea on September 30, 1990 014 became one of the symbols of the end of the “Cold War”, which had separated two countries for such a long time. During this short period, starting essentially from the zero point, we have managed to achieve a lot. In fact we have established a new network of ties in economy, science and culture. Over the years, a sustainable mechanism for regular contacts at the highest level has been developed with 27 official bilateral summits held since 1990.
The cooperation with the Republic of Korea is important to Russia both in terms of promoting economic and trade relations, and in the context of mutual efforts to ensure peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia as a whole.
The similarity of Russia’s and ROK’s positions on many key international issues, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, global energy, environmental, information and food security, create a good basis for cooperation between our two countries in the UN and other international forums.
ROK is one of our largest trading partners, with bilateral trade volume of 26 billion US dollars (as of the end of 2014). Our country as one of the main world producers of hydrocarbons already delivers 1.5 million tons of LNG to South Korea annually. There is no doubt that in the coming years the importance of energy cooperation between the ROK and the resource-rich Russia will steadily increase. It is important to remember though that Russia operates on the Korean market not only as an exporter of raw materials, but also introducing its’ high-tech products.
One of the main priorities of Russian-South Korean ties is cooperation in accelerating the social and economic development of the Russian Far East. We note with satisfaction that many Russian ideas in this regard turned out to be in tune with the proposals of President Park Geun-hye of the Republic of Korea, who has brought forward the initiative of peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia.
Working with the ROK in the quest for strengthening peace and stability in Northeast Asia, Russia proceeds from the perception that the ultimate solution to all problems on the Korean peninsula, including the nuclear one, is possible only through negotiations that would take into account the legitimate interests of all regional states with no exception.
It is exactly the basis our approach to the settlement of the Korean Peninsula nuclear problem. Namely, we see the necessity to proceed in the broader context of military detente in the region, and the need for formation of a capable multilateral mechanism of peace and security in Northeast Asia.
I would like to stress that in our understanding the settlement of Korean Peninsula nuclear problem is directly connected with the inter-Korean normalization issue. That is why Russia has always supported the aspirations of the two Korean states for peaceful reunification of the motherland. That is why we welcome the outcome of the last August contact between the South and the North in Panmunjom and express the hope that the implementation of the agreements reached during that meeting will unlock the inter-Korean relations stalemate.
In our view, the implementation of major trilateral projects involving Russia, North and South Korea is also intended to contribute to the above-mentioned process. We are talking about the connection of the Trans-Korean Railway with the Trans-Siberian Railroad, as well as creating a unified electric power system and pipeline network in the North-East Asia that would link the Korean peninsula to the regions of Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East.
Here I have marked only few areas of cooperation between Russia and the Republic of Korea in the near and long term, which to my opinion are the most important. Today, there is virtually no sphere of human activity we do not cooperate in, be it international security, trade, economy, culture, science and technology, energy, etc. 015 I am convinced that at the moment in our relations there are no major political problems that could prevent Russia and Korea from continuing to build truly good-neighborly and mutually beneficial relations in the XXI century.
Thank you for your attention.