Russia, South Korea Look At East Asia Railway Union Transiting North Korea

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Getting North Korea Into The Belt & Road Initiative

Op/Ed by Chris Devonshire-Ellis

Russia and South Korea have been discussing the possibility of establishing an East Asia Railway Union that would create railway connections between it and South Korea, while transiting through North Korea.

Russian Deputy Minister of Transport Vladimir Tokarev has recently taken part in an international seminar in Seoul discussing the issue and raised the possibility of trial container shipments as a pilot project of railway transport logistics between North Korea and Russia. Apparently, four railway routes were announced that could develop cooperation between East Asia states. These routes include plans to upgrade old rail lines and reconnect Khasan in Russia’s Far East, by rail to Rason, the Special Economic Zone on North Korea’s east coast.

Khasan has a railway station on the Baranovsky-Khasan line from Vladivostok, where it connects with the Trans-Siberian railway heading West across Russia to Moscow, and from there into Europe.

Heading south from Khasan, it runs to Rason in North Korea, via the Korean-Russian Friendship Bridge over the Amur River. The North Korean border station is at Tumangang just across the river. There are on-going discussions to upgrade the bridge, and the line. In October 2017 a fiber-optic cable running across the bridge provided North Korea with an additional connection to the global Internet through Russia’s Trans Telekom provider, a subsidiary of Russian national railway operator Russian Railways. It allows North Korea to be less dependent on its primary internet connection through China Unicom, (similarly running over the China-Korea Friendship Bridge after it was the target of a DDoS attack earlier that same year.

The South Korean Ambassador to Moscow Lee Sok-bae has stated that “We hope for further development of cooperation between the Republic of Korea and Russia to implement a project on establishing an East Asia Railway Union” meaning that he hoped for connections to extend further to South Korea. This statement came in response to a question regarding the restrictions on trial container shipments from South Korea to Russia and Europe through North Korea. Deputy Minister Tokarev noted that there are issues that need resolving, namely, to submit a request on preliminary lifting of UN Security Council sanctions.

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Russia Briefing is produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. The firm assists foreign investors throughout Asia, including Russia, China, India, the ASEAN nations and the Belt & Road Initiative. Chris Devonshire-Ellis is the practice Chairman. He previously served as Vice-Chair of the UNDP Greater Tumen Initiative, handling developments between North China, North Korea, Far East Russia, Japan and South Korea. Please contact for strategic advisory or visit us at