Russia Resumes Passenger Trains to North Korea's Border After COVID-19 Suspension

Russia's Primorsky Krai region is resuming passenger train services connecting Vladivostok to North Korea's border area after a years-long suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The move follows the resumption of cargo shipments in November 2022 and is part of North Korea's gradual reopening of its borders.

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Aqsa Younas Rana
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Russia Resumes Passenger Trains to North Korea's Border After COVID-19 Suspension

Russia Resumes Passenger Trains to North Korea's Border After COVID-19 Suspension

After a years-long suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia's Primorsky Krai region is set to resume passenger train services connecting the city of Vladivostok to North Korea's border area. The announcement was made by Oleg Kozhemyako, the governor of Primorsky Krai, following a meeting with the head of a visiting North Korean delegation from the border city of Rason.

Why this matters: The resumption of passenger trains between Russia and North Korea has significant implications for the region's economy and politics, as it could lead to increased trade and cooperation between the two countries. Additionally, it raises concerns about the potential for North Korea to send workers to Russia's Far East, which could violate UN Security Council sanctions resolutions.

The passenger trains will traverse a railway bridge that links Khasan, Russia to Rason, North Korea. Freight and passenger rail services on this route had been halted since the outbreak of the pandemic, but cargo shipments resumed in November 2022. Governor Kozhemyako shared the news of the passenger service resumption in a Telegram post on Monday.

The decision to restart passenger trains comes amid concerns raised by experts that it could lead to North Korea sending workers to Russia's Far East, a move that is prohibited under U.N. Security Council sanctions resolutions. Moscow is believed to be facing a labor shortage as a result of its ongoing war with Ukraine.

The resumption of passenger rail services between Russia and North Korea is part of a broader trend of the isolated nation gradually reopening its borders. In February 2024, a special Russian group became the first foreigners to enter North Korea in over four years, embarking on a ski trip arranged through an agreement between the Primorskiy Krai administration and the North Korean government.

Various Russian delegations visited North Korea in autumn 2023, and the new Mongolian Ambassador and embassy staff arrived in Pyongyang. In April 2024, the Spring Friendship Art Festival took place in the North Korean capital, featuring guest performers from countries including Russia, China, and Mongolia.

While China's news outlet CCTV announced in September 2023 that foreigners would be allowed into North Korea, there has been no official confirmation from the North Korean government. Koryo Tours, a travel company specializing in tours to North Korea, received news in August 2023 that the country was expected to officially reopen its border soon.

The reopening of North Korea's border is initially expected to be limited to North Korean citizens, with foreigners granted entry based on priority, such as diplomats and humanitarian aid workers. The resumption of passenger trains between Vladivostok and North Korea's border area is seen as a positive sign for the eventual reopening of the border to tourism.

Key Takeaways

  • Russia's Primorsky Krai region to resume passenger train services to North Korea's border area.
  • Resumption of trains could lead to increased trade and cooperation between Russia and North Korea.
  • Concerns raised about potential violation of UN Security Council sanctions resolutions.
  • North Korea gradually reopening its borders, with limited access for foreigners.
  • Resumption of passenger trains seen as positive sign for eventual reopening to tourism.