Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 150

A month-long spy scandal that has roiled relations between Russia and South Korea has apparently cost South Korean Foreign Minister Park Chung-soo his job. Park resigned under pressure yesterday and issued a statement expressing his apologies for the mishandling of Russian-South Korean relations. South Korean President Kim Dae-jung immediately named ambassador-at-large Hong Soon-young to replace Park. Hong had previously served in Malaysia, Russia and Germany. (AP, Reuter, August 4) Russia’s Foreign Ministry yesterday expressed its hopes that Hong’s appointment would help improve ties between the two countries. (Russian agencies, August 4)

The spy row that led to Park’s ouster began on July 4 when Russia expelled Cho Sung-woo–an intelligence officer serving in the South Korean embassy in Moscow–after he was allegedly caught red-handed receiving classified information from a Russian Foreign Ministry official. The Russian official, Valentin Moiseev, has since been charged with treason. South Korea retaliated against Cho’s expulsion four days later by ordering a Russian diplomat and intelligence officer, Oleg Abramkin, out of the country. On July 20, in an apparent attempt to bring the spy row to a close, South Korea agreed to withdraw five additional diplomats–all said to be intelligence officers–from its embassy in Moscow. That decision was reported to have been part of a broader agreement between Russia and South Korea to equalize the number of intelligence agents each country has working in its diplomatic missions.

During a July 26 meeting between Park and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov in Manila, however, the two sides were still unable to resolve their differences. Two days later the two men met again in Manila. Primakov announced after the meeting that Abramkin would be allowed to return to South Korea to finish his tour, and he intimated that South Korea had apologized for its role in the spy scandal. But, responding in Seoul on July 29, Park denied Primakov’s version of their talks and said that Abramkin would not be allowed to return to South Korea. (See Monitor, July 6-9, 29-30) Subsequent confusion from the South Korean Foreign Ministry over the precise results of the Park-Primakov talks in Manila led news media to criticize the Foreign Minister, which probably figured in the decision to replace Park.