Country Report: Russia (May 2021)
For a champion of multipolarity, Russia was increasingly feeling isolated with only one partner in the spring of 2021. The Biden administration was deemed hostile with no prospect of better relations, as Russians explored more decoupling. The latest disappointment centered on Europe despite recent hopes that Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel were trying to build bridges, as solidarity across the West was advancing. The only other power center taken seriously besides China was India, whose recent lurch to the US and its Indo-Pacific strategy was a source of anxiety. Writers asked what European leaders make of the closer Sino-Russian relationship and what risks may await Russia. If they acknowledged a risk, it was in the distant future. If they advocated some shift in Russian strategy, it was tentative and uncritical of Putin’s choices. If they were wary of China, some troubling examples were raised, but there was no tone of real alarm expressed.
On March 21 in RSMD Sino-Russian relations were assessed by Sergey Sanakoev, who argued that against the background of aggressive US attacks, Moscow and Beijing are demonstrating high diplomatic etiquette, mutual respect, and equality, a strategic partnership of an all-encompassing nature that is entering a new era. Under discussion, he notes, is the possibility of not automatically extending the validity of their 20-year-old treaty, provided for by its relevant provisions, but the signing of an addendum to the treaty. Emphasis is put on the inviolability of the results of the Second World War, recognition of the joint great victory as the heritage of all mankind, and the need to create a community of common destiny. Russia and China are linking our integration processes for the construction of the EEU and the BRI, he adds. The number of Chinese-European trains passing through Russia has increased by almost 40%. Scientific, technical and innovative cooperation between China and Russia in 2020–2021 allowed them to significantly advance interaction in new areas such as artificial intelligence, 5G, and cloud technologies. Sanakoev also celebrates the cosmic prospects for the joint exploration of the moon and the creation of alternative energy sources.
In the May-June issue of Rossiya v Global’noi Politike Vasily Kashin and Aleksandr Zaitsev wrote of China’s success in the battle for Europe, noting the successful completion of an investment treaty despite the opposition of two US presidents. Although the main battle still lies ahead, China has won a major victory in the struggle over Europe. Now European policy toward China will be less dependent on the US, the authors (prematurely) conclude.
On March 23 Aleksandr Lukin contributed to Rossiya v Global’noi Politike an assessment of the Alaska Sino-US meeting. He called the behavior of the United States absurd, inviting high-ranking Chinese officials to visit just to quarrel with them. One explanation is that the new administration needs to prove that it is pursuing a tough course towards Beijing so as not to be criticized for "betrayal" by Republicans; From this point of view, China, like Russia, is not a real country for both parties in the United States, but a symbol in an internal political struggle. Another is the erroneous belief, since the time of Nixon, or at least since the beginning of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, that an unspoken contract was signed with the PRC, according to which Washington turns a blind eye to the communist regime and promotes the development of China by providing various benefits and access to international organizations; for its part, China was joining an international system "based on rules" formulated by the United States and its allies, and was gradually changing towards "democracy" of the American type. This contract, of course, existed only in the imagination of the Americans.
As for the system of global governance, Beijing did not seek to undermine it completely or change it for another, but demanded that its role in it would correspond to the new weight of the PRC on the world stage and in the system of the world economy. If Washington continues to openly criticize Chinese policy in public, it will have to face the same criticism from Beijing, including on domestic political problems, which are increasingly acute in America. And this criticism in the world can be perceived as fully justified. Yet Lukin warns that Beijing itself has virtually no allies. Moreover, the attitude the West calls "wolf warrior diplomacy" is getting worse. According to opinion polls, the number of those who have a good attitude towards the PRC has fallen sharply over the past few years in almost all parts of the world. Thus, it will be difficult for Beijing to resist American pressure. It needs to learn to understand other countries and their interests and work with them not by shouts and orders, as the United States does, but by involving them in cooperation by mutual compromises and demonstrating not toughness, but sincerity and understanding.
On March 24 Aleksandr Lomanov commented in Interfaks on the visit of Sergey Lavrov to China just after US diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific kicked into high gear, noting that the Russo-Chinese partnership has been developing for several decades, but for a number of reasons it remained underestimated. Chinese hopes that the US would cede to it as Great Britain had ceded to the US after WWI were not justified. Its peaceful rise in an epoch of globalization and cooperation could not be sustained. Last year, when China signed the Comprehensive Investment Agreement with the Europeans, there were hopes that Europe would retain its political sovereignty. Therefore, China made serious concessions to European business—primarily for German manufacturers, also to French and Dutch—the most developed industrial countries of Europe, offering privileged conditions in the Chinese market. Yet it became clear that the US was rapidly rebuilding the Transatlantic alliance, and discussions about the "danger" of cooperation with China, that China "violates human rights" and behaves "not according to the rules" began to be heard in Europe. Once Europe showed its willingness to act in unison with the US by joining sanctions over Xinjiang, China responded very harshly. The final disengagement from the US is inevitable. The European return to the fold of the Transatlantic alliance and joint pressure on China were the next "cold shower." China and Russia need each other much more than they did 20 years ago, when cooperation was perceived by both Chinese and Russian experts as "friendship in reserve."
Over the years, the Chinese side defined relations with three noes, indicating what should not be done—not to join an alliance, not to stage a confrontation, and not to target third countries. Now there are no exclusion zones and no upper limit to relations. Rapprochement intensified two years ago, when the leaders of the two countries proclaimed a new era in relations. Taking the relationship to a new level, Wang Yi indicates, China is taking very seriously. There is an opinion in China that the Russian-Chinese Treaty should be extended in February 2022, but the two parties should continuously enrich it. After Trump’s trade agenda, Biden’s values agenda and "alliance of democracy," and now the transatlantic alliance, which targets all opponents of America, the Chinese side has understood a lot of what it did not understand five years ago. A significant marker was a 2020 speech by Xi Jinping celebrating the anniversary of the sending of Chinese People’s Volunteers to the DPRK in order to help a neighboring country and contain American aggression. Xi said that in the face of aggression, the Chinese people will not buckle at the sight of an aggressor, and their backs will not bend. That war taught the Chinese to speak with the aggressor only in the language they understand. This symbolically put an end to the rosy reasoning that harmony, mediocrity, and peacefulness miraculously help China solve all those problems that Russia—deprived of these qualities—allegedly cannot solve for itself. Now the Chinese elite have a deeper understanding of the problems facing Russia. China needs friends, it needs reliable partners, when interacting with whom it would know that it would not be betrayed and would not be stabbed in the back. Therefore, the value of Russian-Chinese trust now outweighs all those obvious problems that experts often point out. Sino-American trade has ceased to be a "ballast stone" is increasingly heard in Chinese publications. In short, China has held back Sino-Russian relations based on illusions; it now sees that Russia has been right.
In the May/June issue of Rossiya v Global’noi Politike Lomanov wrote that in 1981 Brezhnev had been correct, warning that socialist countries could not trust imperialist ones. In the "trade war" unleashed by Trump against China, it seemed that the warning was vindicated, and in 2020, it became weighty and convincing. After the scandalous meeting in Anchorage in March 2021, the "imperialists" had fallen out in earnest with China, which had tried hard to get along: in 2003, the attractive slogan of "peaceful rise" emerged in China, claiming that in the context of economic globalization, Beijing had found a new path to leadership—not to challenge the existing world order, not to use military instruments to support its rise, and not to harm the interests of other countries; in 2013, Xi Jinping enthusiastically proposed to the United States the concept of a "new type of relationship between large states," assuming that Beijing and Washington would not enter conflict and the two would demonstrate mutual respect, develop cooperation, and gain mutual benefits. Until the end of 2019, China followed the same measured course in the hope that reconciliation with the United States is possible, but after the trade deal in January 2020, the US began to harshly criticize China, leading finally to Beijing ceasing to remain silent.
The most important issue now is the ability to compensate for the reduced access to foreign technologies and components of its development. So far, Beijing’s attempts to find loyal foreign partners capable of acting without regard to the United States have yielded limited results. The Biden administration has successfully mobilized European allies to counter China under the slogans of "transatlantic unity" and "alliance of democracies." The spread of an ideological union in the sphere of technology leads to advanced developments becoming inaccessible to "authoritarian regimes." Yet China’s success in import substitution will make it immune to sanctions blackmail. This will allow Beijing not only to boldly criticize its Western partners, but also to resolutely defend its interests without regard to the consequences, as the Biden administration has added to China’s economic and technological containment a policy of collective opposition based on the shared democratic values of the West. Washington proceeds from the premise that Beijing will be afraid of global isolation and will back down. The return of the old era, in which "imperialism is not on friendly terms with socialism," frightens Chinese politicians with its unpredictability and burdensomeness, leading to desperate defensive actions, and this is really dangerous—both for the Asian region and for the whole world.
On April 15, Timofey Bordachev in Rossiya v Global’noi Politike stressed the need for Sino-Russian relations to remain stable as a new global balance of power is formed. To do this, it is necessary to imagine now what problems real multipolarity can bring—the most desirable state of international politics for China and Russia today. Bordachev warns of the impossibility of applying the experience of the early 1970s by tearing Moscow and Beijing apart, of "seducing" one of these powers. Instead, the inevitability of a Sino-Russian rapprochement becomes an argument justifying the current behavior of the United States and, to a lesser extent, Europe. The Sino-Russian rapprochement could lead to tensions, as it threatens to lose flexibility in the foreign policy of each of these powers. The rest of the world will restrain Russia and China, regardless of whether they intend to achieve hegemony or not, as seen in India, which does not at all seek to become part of the order led by the United States, but by its actions already deprives Moscow and Beijing of certain opportunities, and creates tactical advantages for Washington. The article warns that much depends on the measures that China and Russia take so that the likely consequences do not turn out to be truly dangerous for them.
RIA Novosti on March 28 cited Ivan Zuenko on problems in the Sino-Russian relationship despite the success of the Wang Yi-Lavrov meeting in Guilin, in contrast to the Sino-American summit in Alaska, which gave the impression of a triumph for the "Russian-Chinese Entente." Beijing and Moscow have something to discuss besides geopolitics: an unfavorable trade structure for Russia, an insufficient number of successful investment projects, an undeveloped cross-border infrastructure and also new negative aspects, e.g., the Chinese closure of the ports where Russian fish went under the pretext of fighting the spread of the coronavirus. “Russian business is suffering huge losses, and the issue of resuming supplies was raised at the level of deputy prime ministers," says Zuenko. If the Russian-Chinese quasi-alliance works well on the strategic plane, from the point of view of ordinary people, the current relationship, according to Zuenko, cannot yet be called the best in history. For Chinese entering Russia, there is an “electronic visa”— in fact, visa-free entry for up to two weeks. But Russians do not have the opportunity to travel to the PRC in this way. The living and working conditions for foreigners in China are constantly becoming more difficult. The borders are closed, and no one knows when they will open, although a Russian can fly to the USA with a valid visa any day. Both countries are introducing more and more trade barriers, business is going bankrupt. It is not just the pandemic. That only accelerated a process growing over the past five to six years, Zuenko concludes that these neighbors have a lot to do in order to establish long-term mutually beneficial relations. But rapprochement seems to be a priority for Moscow. And as long as China needs Russia and it is interested in strengthening relations, it should take advantage of this, while not turning a blind eye to the obvious problems in the partnership.
On March 19, Aleksandr Gabuev in Moscow Carnegie Center wrote about the prospects of European leaders stopping Russia and China from drawing closer. He observed that an increasing number of these leaders have been thinking about how to stop Russia’s drift, noting such reasons as China’s share in Russia’s foreign trade increasing from 10.5% in 2013 to 18.3% in 2020 against the backdrop of a steady decline in the EU’s share from 49.4% to 38.5%; recent discussion of going beyond the planned capacity of “Power of Siberia” of 38 billion cubic meters per year (by 2024) with a new pipeline "Strength Siberia-2 ” via Mongolia, which would deliver gas to China from Yamal and from Western Siberia—a resource base for Gazprom’s supplies to the EU. Russia selling latest weapons systems ( Su-35 fighters and S-400 systems ) and helping it create a missile attack warning system while Putin made it known that Moscow and Beijing have another large-scale project in the military-technical sphere, which the Kremlin and Zhongnanhai are not yet ready to announce (standard Russian-Chinese practice is that such deals become public one and a half to two years after signing) and left open the possibility of a true military alliance.
Europeans have been concerned about the 17+1 forum in Eastern Europe and the BRI; after US attitudes towards China changed, such a change in Europe, which acts as the US’ junior partner in geopolitics, was only a matter of time, concludes Gabuev, who warns that European NATO member states increasingly define the Indo-Pacific region, including the South China Sea, as a zone of their security interests. This is largely a consequence of the fact that the United States changed, and after 2014, the parties began to cooperate in exchanging experiences between counterintelligence services. Gabuev also finds Chinese state-owned media outlets with Western audiences, such as CGTN and People’s Daily, mimicking Russian RT in tone. Such an evolution is unlikely to be the result of cooperation between Moscow and Beijing—it is rather a creative copying and borrowing of advanced experience so frequent in China, he concludes.
He warns that after the reorientation of a significant part of Russian companies to predominantly Chinese technologies (and corresponding standards), it will be difficult to reverse this trend. This will require a shock comparable in depth to the Ukrainian crisis. There will be a gradual drift towards Pax Sinica—a China-centric geo-economic space, where the PRC will be the main trading partner for all participants, the main investor, creditor, and issuer of the regional currency used for settlements and savings, as well as a source of advanced technologies and a legislator of technological standards. For Russia, he concludes, slow entry into Pax Sinica promises benefits with manageable risks only for the short term—up to 10-15 years. In the future, these risks will increase significantly, due to a buyer’s market. In 2011, CNPC was able to force Rosneft and Transneft to amend the contract for oil supplies via Skovorodino-Mohe and achieve a discount of about $1.5 per barrel. In 2020, Beijing’s pressure forced Rosneft to abandon drilling on the section of the Vietnamese continental shelf that China considers part of its sea space.
Ahead, the negotiating position of Beijing may strengthen, and Moscow’s weaken. Beijing will start pushing for Moscow to stop selling its arms to Vietnam and India. Or it will ask Russia "in a friendly way" to recommend to the Central Asian states that they accept on their territory private military companies of the PRC to guard Chinese facilities. Russia should now take steps to minimize such risks, abandoning the illusion that Moscow has enough room to maneuver to move eggs from a basket labeled "Europe" to a basket labeled "China." Whether this is so will become clear in the next 10-15 years, so it is important to assess Europe’s potential as a balancer in relations with Beijing right now. As long as Russia is not going to change the foundations of its foreign and domestic policy, which would allow it to diversify international contacts and rely on faster and more sustainable economic growth, Moscow’s room for maneuver in the Chinese direction will narrow over time. Finally, Gabuev advises that the existing four intergovernmental Russian-Chinese commissions on economic issues, headed by four different deputy prime ministers duplicate each other and do not always communicate with each other. If Moscow and Beijing do not want to reduce the number of commissions, the Russian side could create a back office in the government apparatus common for all four and provide it with the necessary expertise.
On March 2, the Carnegie Moscow Center held a roundtable on the role of Europe in the growing dependence of Russia on China with Gabuev and Dmitry Trenin. It was noted that the Sino-Russian relationship has grown increasingly asymmetric, linked to the different economic power of the two, and the pandemic has exacerbated this divide. Does this asymmetry pose a risk for Russia, and can it achieve some balance through ties to Europe? Will Europe and the US draw closer to Russia to lessen its turn to China? Trenin accepted asymmetry as the rule in international relations. China has become a 21st century superpower alongside the US, while Russia is next in the world hierarchy of powers. Despite the reversal of fortune of China and Russia, they have built a close relationship. Russia’s political class adapted well, and China handled Russia wisely. Trenin recognizes risks in technology, as China separates from the West, and in its nationalism, which could turn against Russia. Yet dependency does not necessitate subordination. Russia should strive for balance, as Trenin has argued in a new book. China is also dependent on Russia, and it is not just the economy that matters. In geography, military prowess, national character, and resources, Russia has some balancing factors. If its sovereignty were threatened, Russia is ready, as China was in the 1950s, to pay a big price. Russia needs to develop its own forces—starting with economic and technological ones as part of a capital repair—or its prospects for moving forward are dim. Establishing a global equilibrium with Europe and India is challenging, requiring a strategy not explained by Trenin. The axiom in the West that Russia is a declining power complicates things, as does the exaggeration there of Sino-Russian differences. Trenin advises against trying to play the “game” by getting the West to help Russia balance against China. It is too risky to undercut ties to China with the illusion the West respects Russia. The meaning of “respect” does not need to be spelled out to Russians.
Gabuev agrees that Russia will remain an autonomous player on the world scene and will keep its sovereignty, but it could lose decades in development and improved living conditions. Russia has space to better balance relations between Europe and China—its two principal markets. To the Ukraine crisis Europe was the main supplier of technology, the main investor, the main creditor, and the partner with 60 percent of Russia’s trade. China in 2013 had 10 percent of trade, invested little, and offered little credit. Russia did not depend on China for technology. At the end of the 90s Khodorkovsky raised the prospect of turning to China’s growing market, and at the end of the 2000s Russia resumed that pursuit. A lot of balance has been realized with 40 percent of trade now with the EU and 20 percent with China, likely to rise to 40-50 percent as the demand for coal, oil, and gas declines. In Europe Russian companies have successfully maneuvered between competing interests and countries. In China, the CCP controls all, using its clout to extract favorable terms, lately from Russia. The case of Rosneft, which depends on China the most, is instructive. It built a pipeline on credit and was forced to accept losses of $3.5 billion over 20 years when China lowered the purchase price. In August 2020, it had to abandon a project off of Vietnam when China applied pressure over its territorial claims, no longer allowing it to balance two partners, What China is doing to Australia is relevant. In a decade will Russia still be able to sell weapons to India or Vietnam if China controls half of Russia’s trade? Russia has become a key supplier of military technology for the Chinese armed forces, changing the situation in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, and the Senkakus. Europe is becoming more engaged in military confrontation in Southeast Asia, and now Chinese ships are maneuvering with Russian ones on the shores of Europe. A danger exists that Europe will be aroused by disinformation from Russia and China and will not be inclined to reinforce Russian sovereignty. Russia needs a cleverer, coordinated policy toward China and to reorient the entire Asia-Pacific region with infrastructure in the Russian Far East not on China’s border.
In Forbes on April 6, Igor Denisov asked what China is prepared to do in its confrontation with the West. Despite Chinese rhetoric in response to criticisms of policies in Xinjiang, China will prefer to keep retaliation under control. As an example of past success, its response to THAAD is cited, when it did not flex its military muscles but launched unofficial sanctions. Yet the country’s image in South Korea has been fundamentally damaged. Although the "special operation" was planned so as not to hit hard on its own, 1.5 years of unspoken boycott caused damage to Chinese companies as well. And some affected South Korean firms never returned to China, switching to other markets. The existence of a number of South Korean enterprises in the PRC became unbearable, and the losses grew. Moon Jae-in took office, offering assurances, but it was not a complete victory for China. Now, China is going further—a consumer boycott of H&M and other Western companies, which refused to buy cotton allegedly produced with the use of forced labor of the Uighurs, is accompanied by quasi-official counter-sanctions against Western politicians, government agencies, think tanks, and individual experts who spoke out on violations in Xinjiang. The Chinese set of financial sanctions instruments is very limited, since the global financial system remains US-centric for now. Any escalation of the conflict or simply a wrong move on the part of Beijing could lead to an increase in transatlantic unity and solidarity within the EU. China cannot fail to respond to a new wave of criticism, but it is difficult to find an answer that will unequivocally strengthen its position. Attempts by Chinese diplomats in the EU countries to switch to personal threats against the most active critics destroy the social capital that China has been building for many years. The ratification of the investment agreement with the EU, which China and the EU had been actively seeking for seven years, may be in jeopardy. Although Russia is in solidarity with its strategic partner on the issue of rejection of unilateral Western sanctions, immediately after meeting with Wang Yi, Lavrov made it clear that the parties would not synchronize responses to sanctions against China and Russia.
Does China’s growing activity in Central Asia and rising interest in the Arctic threaten Russian trust in it? There is a delicate line between China’s economic, technological sphere in Central Asia and Russia’s security and political sphere of influence. Sometimes the line changes, as in China’s new role in Tajikistan’s security. In the Arctic, China’s legal position is close to that of the US—freedom of navigation over sovereignty. If Russia could not sell arms to India or Vietnam it would cross a red line of political subordination to China. Trade with China is outdistancing trade with others ever more. The mentality that Japan and South Korea are not fully sovereign states means fear that the US would undermine any deal, interfering with cooperation. Russia has ample resources not to rely on one purchaser and can develop its Pacific maritime trade but lost its chance with Japan in the mid-2000s. In the foreign ministry, Margulov has responsibility for the bulk of Asia. That is too much for one man and works against diversification. Trenin argues that Russia should eschew an alliance with China or becoming embroiled in the US-China confrontation, as it had mistakenly done in WWI, between Great Britain and Germany.
On May 3 in Lenta-ru, Chinese interference in former Soviet republics was further assessed. At first, cooperation with China was mutually beneficial: Beijing distributed huge loans, built infrastructure, and in return asked for next to nothing—access to minerals and protection from local extremists. In addition, China did not try to interfere in the political and economic affairs of its neighbors. But recently, Beijing’s strategy in relations with some Central Asian republics has changed. Emphasis is put on Kyrgyzstan and the resulting danger to Russia. In the past few years, anti-Chinese protests have become routine in Central Asia’s political landscape—in 2019-2020 alone, more than 40. The agenda is different: from solidarity with the persecuted Uyghurs in China to protests against the transfer of land to Chinese companies on long-term leases. In addition, there have been important changes in the rhetoric of the protesters: now they criticize not only China, but also their own elites, which, in their opinion, have sold out to Beijing. In response, leaders talk of punishing everyone whose activities would threaten bilateral relations, and call on citizens to be grateful to Beijing.
One scandal is identified in Bishkek. In 2013, the China Export-Import Bank allocated a loan of $386 million. The only condition was that work had to be carried out by the Chinese company TBEA. However, in 2018, a major accident occurred at the facility, leaving the city without heating. In search of the culprit, the authorities looked up the documentation and found systematic waste. Schemes under which more than $700 million were illegally withdrawn from Kyrgyzstan are mentioned. Chinese goods entered the country using forged documents, which made it possible to greatly save on duties. China is turning into the main source of shadow income for some of the region’s elites, which binds them even more tightly by mutual responsibility. Uzbekistan owes China 16 percent of its GDP, while Kyrgyzstan’s debt is more than 20 percent of its GDP. The case of the son-in-law of the Tajik president, who for a bribe of $2.8 million helped a Chinese company obtain a gold mining license, casts doubt on the old balance of power in Central Asia between Russia and China. Beijing could build up its economic influence as much as it wanted, but Moscow remained the main political partner and dealt with integration projects and collective security programs. The instability in Afghanistan and the desire to finally end the issue of Uyghur separatism led Beijing to increase its political and military presence in the region. The economic impact of the pandemic is giving the Chinese an added advantage. Moscow needs to look for new solutions, to strengthen the sovereignty of the Central Asian republics to neutralize Chinese influence, but this calls into question all of Russia’s integration efforts in the region, the article concludes.
In Kommersant on April 29, Biden’s quest for a summit with Putin was treated as a revival of the old strategic triangle. Biden’s aim is to prevent escalation of tensions with Russia, unlike preparations for worsening relations with China. Efforts to not fight on two fronts will, however, not be met with Chinese concerns that Russia would abandon the conflict with the US. Meanwhile, the Biden administration still views Russia as a problem, not as a strategic opening. Yet fundamental problems between Russia and the US are not many, with almost no competition on world markets, few threats to freedom of navigation in important strategic waterways for the US, and no further ideological challenge from Russia. The situation of China and Russia is different for the US as the US will keep seeking to drive a wedge in their relationship.
The Korea Peninsula
In Kommersant on April 2, the fate of Pyongyang was said to be in the hands of Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo, whose national security advisors were set to meet in the final stages of the US strategic review. Prospects for any plan depend on whether they were ready to guarantee the security of Pyongyang in return for it declining to develop its rocket and missile programs. Their refusal to do so had doomed the Trump-Kim “historical agreement.”
In Asia Risk Research Center on April 8, it was declared that the current line of Seoul towards Pyongyang is doomed and will not bear fruit by the end of Moon’s presidency. There were high hopes for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, believing that the arrival of the DPRK sports delegation to Japan would allow South Korea to repeat the political success of the Olympics in Pyeongchang. But Seoul is not ready for conflict with Washington or to violate international sanctions, and Pyongyang has long understood by whom the fundamental foundations of Seoul’s policy towards the DPRK are really determined. Despite all the loud words about friendship and "blood kinship," Moon has unequivocally decided that because of North Korea, Seoul will not go into a real conflict with the United States. "Since everything is decided in the end in the United States, why waste time on South Korea?" is the response in the DPRK. It saved Seoul from humiliation; even if it sent athletes to Tokyo, it would have ignored any approaches from Seoul.
TASS on April 14 reported on the situation of the Russian ambassador to the DPRK. Aleksandr Manegora explained how diplomats were coping with the restrictions of life in Pyongyang in the pandemic. In 1991-93 it was much worse for them, when there was also no rotation or vacations, and months went by without salaries as they feared for family members at home. Now Russians are much better off than other foreigners with a vast, autonomous complex with everything needed for work and life—schools, sports grounds, and health centers. Unlike other diplomatic missions, they have almost fully maintained their collective, although movement around the country is restricted. Goods are costlier—only moderately so with the main foodstuffs, which are still available, with almost no imports. Children go onto the streets in their own courtyards, as people play volleyball and badminton there again. Foreigners can play tennis at the diplomatic club. Shipping may resume after the end of April and massive disinfecting. Sanctions exert an extremely negative influence on ordinary people, the ambassador emphasized, calling for the resumption of Six-Party Talks or another multilateral format, not in a vacuum but to resolve the whole complex of problems of peace and stability, along lines sought by Russia and China, in Northeast Asia.