November 2, 2011
On 1 November 2011, President Lee Myung-bak arrived in St. Petersburg for summit talks with Russian Federation President, Dmitry Medvedev. On the agenda is North Korea’s nuclear program; bilateral economic cooperation; and the proposed natural gas pipeline project to transport Russian natural gas from Siberia to South Korea via Vladivostok and North Korea.The visit is Lee Myung-Bak’s third since coming to office, demonstrating the administration’s support for Russia playing a greater role in Korean affairs and particularly, the administration’s strong support for the longstanding South Korean aim to secure access to Russian natural gas via a direct pipeline.
At the heart of the discussions will be one issue – security of supply. Much research has been done on Russia’s use of energy (and resources) to obtain political objectives. This remains a concern to South Korea. A recent paper by the US Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) notes that natural gas has become a more potent instrument of coercion in the contemporary security environment than oil was in the traditional security environment. An increased South Korean reliance on Russian natural gas would inevitably have political implications.
It is estimated that the 1,100km pipeline project would cost USD6bn and could potentially come on line as early as 2015. However, there remains a degree of skepticism within the South Korean strategic community and a reluctance to support the project without clear measures to address security concerns.
Image: Mira Shemeikka@flickr.com