At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union re-established itself as a major player on the Korean Peninsula largely as a result of U.S. initiatives in dividing the country, for administrative convenience, between two zones of military occupation. In doing so, the Americans displayed great ignorance regarding Moscow’s prior role in Korean affairs and its legitimate security interests, as well as committing policy blunders on a grand scale. The result was Soviet-U.S. conflict and the perpetuation of Korea’s division, setting the stage for the Korean War five years later.
That was 55 years ago, but in some respects it might as well have been yesterday. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Pyongyang last week once again threatens to turn the peninsula into a theater of Russian-American confrontation. There could be no mistaking the Russian-North Korean communique’s reference to the need to confront “policies of war and aggression” and to build a new “multipolar” international order, making clear that while the Cold War may be over, Russian and U.S. interests continue to collide in Northeast Asia.