Putin lobbies for ‘Iron Silk Road’ via N. Korea, hopes political problems solved shortlyNovember 13, 2013. Russian President Vladimir Putin and President of South Korea Park Geun-hye at a news conference on the results of talks held at the Cheong Wa Dae Palace in Seoul (RIA Novosti / Aleksey Nikolsky)
Russia’s President has pushed for an "Iron Silk Road", a trading route to link South and North Korea with Europe, as he visited Seoul. Mr Putin expressed hope that political disputes, one of the main stumbling blocks, will be solved.
"I hope political problems will be solved at an early date, as South Korea, North Korea and Russia will reap great economic benefits when it's completed," Putin said, while speaking at a South Korea-Russia business conference.
The project President Putin was lobbying for during his one-day visit to South Korea aims to connect the Trans-Siberian Railway, the world's longest railroad that connects Russia's east and west, to South Korea via the North, creating an integrated freight railway network to speed cargo shipments between Asia and Europe. But it requires improving bilateral cooperation between the two conflicting Koreas.
"This project, if accomplished, will help make a great contribution to the establishment of peace and stability on the Korean peninsula," Putin said
As Russia sees it, the rail link will extended through North Korea, across the world's last Cold War frontier, and all the way down to the southern South Korean port of Busan.
But so far the project has been facing several challenges, mainly political obstacles given the rocky nature of North-South relations, and economic sanctions the UN imposed on Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons program.
Despite that Russia has moved forward towards the project’s realization.
As a first step, in September, it opened a 54-kilometer railway linking the North Korean port city of Rajin with the Russian border town of Khasan.
Located in the far northeast, where the borders of North Korea, Russia and China meet, Rajin offers a port for the North's two giant neighbors, making it a potentially effective trading hub.
The terminal at Rajin, as expected, will be able to handle the import of four million tons of coal a year, including shipments for OAO Mechel - one of Russia’s leading mining and metallurgical companies.
The freight rail track is expected to be used for transporting not only coal, but also goods from South Korea and Asian states.
It was estimated that cargo shipments from Asia to Europe would take up to 14 days instead of 45 days via sea freight shipping.
The second phase of the project will involve the construction of a container-handling facility and potentially an oil terminal at the North Korean site, OAO Russian Railways Chief Executive Officer, Vladimir Yakunin, said at the opening ceremony back in September.
Putin arrived in Seoul earlier in the day and was accompanied by several ministers and officials on his one-day state visit.