Russia could provide farmland to North Koreans in Far East, governor says
by Anton Sokolin
Russia could provide North Korean farmers with agricultural land in the Far East, a local governor told reporters this week, a scheme that one expert said could be a DPRK attempt to improve its food situation and earn cash for the regime.
At an event in Moscow, Primorsky Krai Governor Oleg Kozhemyako said his region bordering the DPRK “is ready to consider the possibility of providing agricultural land to North Korean farmers,” the Russian state-controlled news agency TASS reported on Saturday.
The governor added that a Primorsky Krai government delegation will visit North Korea before the end of the year, according to TASS, marking the first such trip by local officials since the DPRK shut its borders at the beginning of the pandemic.
Kozhemyako reportedly said the two sides will likely discuss cooperation in tourism and trade during the visit, as well as Russian-language education for North Korean students.
“In the Soviet times, many residents of Primorsky Krai, children and adults, vacationed in wonderful sanatoriums, resorts [and] children’s camps in the DPRK,” Kozhemyako said, according to TASS.
The governor previously announced that he discussed joint construction projects with DPRK leader Kim Jong Un during his visit to Russia in September. He also indicated plans to create an industrial and trade park in the region showcasing goods from North Korea and China in June.
Chris Monday, a Russia expert at Dongseo University, told NK News that historically many Korean peasants who resettled in Primorsky Krai in the late 19th and early 20th centuries made a living by farming the vast lands of the region.
However, with the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian Far Eastern regions started “inviting Chinese farmers” who would sell their produce at local markets, according to the expert.
Anthony Rinna, a senior editor with the Sino-NK research group, previously explained that workers from China dominated the regional agricultural sector until recently, whereas North Korean laborers mostly participated in construction projects.
Rinna told NK News on Monday that the possibility of Russia-DPRK cooperation in agriculture would represent “one step closer to the long-time trend of moving toward flagrant sanctions violations.”
U.N. Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2397 has banned DPRK workers from earning income abroad since 2019 and required member states to repatriate North Korean nationals.
“This could be the opening salvo to more wide-ranging sanctions violations,” Rinna said, noting that “agricultural cooperation may appear to be the most innocuous of areas where North Korean guest workers could take employment.”
He stated that Pyongyang may be seeking agricultural cooperation with Moscow “as a way to kill two birds with one stone.”
“North Korean laborers could earn money for the regime while also exporting some products as part of humanitarian food aid packages back to the DPRK,” the expert said.
This type of cooperation would be more beneficial for Pyongyang “as opposed to a strict wages-for-labor system that North Korean workers on construction sites operate on,” he added.
Monday warned that it would be very difficult to monitor UNSC guidelines if the two countries covertly engage in the procurement of North Korean laborers for agricultural work.
He suggested that Russia may have already provided the DPRK with “some kind of [humanitarian] assistance,” citing North Korean state media coverage “touting the technical improvements in agriculture and food production.”
During his trip to Russia, Kim Jong Un visited a factory in Vladivostok that specializes in producing advanced animal feed, including for fattening pigs, raising the possibility that Pyongyang may be seeking Moscow’s help to address domestic food shortages.
The Primorsky Krai governor’s statement came shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia of providing technical assistance to North Korea in return for munitions, while the South Korean military assessed that the DPRK also likely provided short-range ballistic missiles to Russia.
Moscow’s foreign ministry dismissed such accusations as “baseless and unsubstantiated,” claiming that Russia “responsibly” fulfills its “international obligations, including Security Council resolutions.”
Monday told NK News that Russian propaganda has sought to portray the country’s cooperation with the DPRK as “peaceful,” emphasizing economic cooperation, trade, tourism and agriculture.
During a visit to Pyongyang in October, Russia’s chief diplomat Sergei Lavrov, reportedly discussed plans for the two countries to hold a meeting of an intergovernmental commission dedicated to energy resources in Pyongyang this month.