Russia, as we've noted, is back in business in the DPRK: months before being 'lumped together' by the Obama Administration in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, Russia's presence was being felt in Rason with infrastructure projects and across the country with cultural and entertainment products gaining prominence.
Last month, Russia and the DPRK announced a Ruble-trade agreement, under which Russian banks can finance North Korean trade in rubles. Earlier in the year, the process for writing off 90% of of a huge Soviet-era debt owed by Pyongyang was completed by Moscow.
And yesterday, it was announced that the first shipment of Russian coal to South Korea through Rason is going to take place. This is significant as it is a test, essentially, of how willing both Koreas are for Russia to act as guarantor and underwriter for inter-Korean economic projects. Russian dreams of a gas pipeline to the ROK. This is a tiny step in that direction and if coal shipments become regularized after this test, stakeholders in both Koreas could quickly become addicted to the easy cash and cheap fuel that comes out with it.
Pyongyang is pleased to have someone not-China step up as a trading and investment partner, while Seoul is looking for backdoor investment possibilities. It is early days, but this trilateral relationship is now worth keeping an eye on.