By Chung Min-uck
The North Korean regime is likely to collapse by the late 2020s amid an intensifying power struggle among the government and military elite, a Russian state think tank said in a report Friday.
“The destructive tendency of North Korea will strengthen and as a result the current form of North Korea could no longer exist,” according to Russia’s state-run think tank World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO).
Under the IMEMO scenario, de facto unification between South and North Korea would start in the late 2020s.
It said the leadership upheaval might be a result of deepening conflict between the government and military bureaucrats after the incumbent North Korean leader Kim Jong-il hands over power to his youngest son Jong-un.
This is a rare view on the North’s future from Russia, which Pyongyang has largely relied on, along with China, to keep its crippled economy afloat.
The think tank said there would be a rivalry between groups which have access to foreign aid and those that don’t. The result would be a triumph for the former as the North can’t survive without support from the outside world, it forecast.
As a consequence, the reclusive state would go under the supervision of international society so that it could eventually be unified with the South and the modernization of the North’s economy would begin, the report said.
It also expects South Korea's economic size to jump from $1 trillion in 2010 to $1.7 trillion in 2020 and $2.3 trillion in 2030.
An official from the foreign ministry said the release of the unprecedented report by a government-owned think tank is an official declaration by the Russian government of welcoming unification on the Korean Peninsula led by the South.
Yet, there is a view that Russia has other intentions in releasing the report.
“Any country can come up with the scenario (of IMEMO),” said professor Lee Dong-hwi from the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. “I think of it this way. Russia releasing the report at this point has to do with pressuring the North in gaining the upper hand in negotiations related to a gas pipeline project.”
The proposal to build a massive gas pipeline linking Russia and South Korea via North Korea, which gained momentum in August after Kim Jong-il expressed his willingness to permit the deal, has made no significant progress since the memorandum of understanding was signed between South Korea's state-run Korea Gas Corp. and its Russian counterpart Gazprom in September.
The project has been discussed for around 20 years but never materialized due to security tensions on the peninsula.
The indication in the report that foreign aid is an indispensable prerequisite for the North’s survival is to push the communist regime to actively be involved in talks on the project.
President Lee Myung-bak and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reaffirmed their commitment to the idea during a summit in St. Petersburg, Wednesday.