Through Russia With Kim Jong Il

Publication: North Korea Review Volume: 1 Issue: 1

Kremlin insider General Konstantin Pulikovsky provides an in-depth look at North

Korean dictator Kim Jong Il through his book The Oriental Express: Through

Russia with Kim Jong Il (Moscow 2002). General Polikovsky recounts conversations

with Kim about the prospects for Korean reunification, relations with the United

States and Kim’s meeting with former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, North

Korea’s relationship with Russia, and an assassination attempt that occurred

during the 2001 trip to Moscow. General Pulikovsky’s book offers a rare glimpse

of the reclusive North Korean leader and insight into the workings of his

regime. Mr. Preobrazhensky’s translation and analysis of the book makes

accessible an important text that has never before been available in the West.

By Konstantin Preobrazhensky

Konstantin Pulikovsky, a Plenipotentiary Representative of President Putin in

the Far Eastern federal district and formerly a commander of Russian Troops in

Chechnya, accompanied Kim Jong Il during his three-week train journey through

Russia in the summer of 2001. From that trip emerged Pulikovsky’s The Oriental

Express: Through Russia with Kim Jong Il.

The book presents numerous interesting details about Kim’s personality and

vividly portrays the state of relations between North Korea and Russia, which

are characterized by the predominance of Kim Jong Il. Though the author avoids

giving the underlying pretext for the visit, he provides Kim’s own explanation

for the trip to Russia:

“My goal was to observe the Far East, Siberia, Moscow and Saint-Petersburg after

more than 40 years of absence.

I wondered why the USSR, especially during the Khrushchev’s period, and also new

Russia in her early years, turned away from our country. If in the Soviet period

such a position could be explained by the non-participation of the DPRK in

COMECON (The Council for Economic Mutual Aid, joined by almost all countries of

the Communist block), after the dissolution of the Soviet Union such an attitude

of Russia towards our country became completely incomprehensible.

I was greatly upset by it and asked the Chinese why the Russians treat us in

such a way. The Chinese advised me to wait, saying that times change and the

Russians will turn their face toward us.

And finally the time has come! Putin became President of Russia. I was extremely

pleased with the change of Russia’s approach in relations with our country. I

was simply charmed by the Russian President during his visit to Pyongyang!

While we were negotiating, the Russian Duma (Parliament) was discussing the

ratification of the Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighborhood and Cooperation

between us. Putin joked that if the Duma refuses to ratify the Treaty, he will

call there and order them to ratify it immediately!”

Putin’s authoritarianism seemed to impress Kim, easing the way toward further

cooperation. During his stay in Moscow, he and Putin discussed problems of

military cooperation, unification of the Trans-Siberian and the Trans-Korean

railroads, and Russian utilization of the North Korean port of Rajin. Since that

summertime meeting, all of these projects seem to be underway to one degree or


Kim’s reaction to President George W. Bush, on the other hand, is far less


“Under Clinton our relations were developing well. We came close to the

conclusion of an agreement with Seoul about opening traffic on the railroad

between the North and South.

But after Bush came to power, he proposed an absolutely unacceptable requirement

to put the question of conventional weapons on the agenda of the bilateral

negotiations. The Americans’ concern about missiles and nuclear weapons can be

understood somehow, but their promotion of the “problem” of the conventional

weapons into the primary position of negotiations is illogical. If Americans

continue their hard line, we will have to give a super-hard response!”

In the same breath Kim cautiously added: “It is important for the new Washington

administration to inherit from its predecessors not only power, but also

politics. We are ready to resume the dialogue on the same level, as it was with

Madeleine Albright.”

Kim Jong Il is much more pleasantly disposed toward Bill Clinton’s former

Secretary of State. He vividly recalled their initial meeting: “At first Mrs.

Albright interrogated me as if we were in court. I answered all the questions,

while she was controlling me in order to determine if I use notes prepared

beforehand or speak extemporaneously. I expressed myself in a simple and

improvised manner. She seemed to like my character.”

In the course of recollecting these memories for Mr. Pulikovsky, Kim’s assistant

excitedly interjected: “The officers of the American State Department confessed

that Mrs. Albright was charmed with our Warlord. She kept squeezing his hand

during the entire reception. She put a new brooch on her dress before the

reception. It had a form of two hearts, a large and a small one. Though before

that her brooch had a very official image: the American flag.”

The author notes that Kim, “…never said directly that he is in favor of the

immediate reunification of both Koreas,” and added that, “…one should

seriously think about what it may lead to.”

Polikovsky’s own remarks on the reunification problem are harshly anti-American,

reflecting the mood of today’s Russian political elite:

“The great goal of Russian diplomacy was the destruction of the biased approach,

according to which the states of our planet should be divided by the criteria of

the US State Department. This approach required to consider the joint opinion of

the “G7” – or the USA, Canada, the Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy and

Japan, – as that of the whole “World Community”, while another “G7”: North

Korea, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Sudan should be despised as

“outcasts”. Russian diplomacy calls upon all the other countries to get rid of

the stereotypes of the past. This factor surely brings hope into the salvation

of the problem of unification of the two states of the Korean Peninsula.”

The author reveals that the carriage in which Kim traveled through Russia had

initially been presented to his father, Kim Il Sung, by “Generalissimo

I.V.Stalin.” This means of address is very revealing, as the Great Kremlin

Dictator hasn’t been referred to in such respectful terms in the Russian media

since the collapse of the Communist regime in 1991. General K. Pulikovsky does

not conceal his admiration for Stalin – a tendency that has become extremely

fashionable in Russia’s highest echelons today. It not surprising, then, that

the author admires Kim Jong Il, the leader of the last Stalinist state.

From the very beginning the author presents a positive image of the North Korean

dictator. “Finally the door of the staff carriage opened and he appeared in the

doorway. He waved his hand to all those who met him and stepped onto the

platform. I held out my hand to Kim Jong Il and greeted him upon his arrival in

Russia. He responded with a strong handshake. I noticed that he had large hands

and thought that he was a physically strong man.” Later the author describes him

as a well-informed leader with a good sense of humor, computer skills and a

strong aura.

General Pulikovsky remarked at the degree of respect shown to the Korean despot:

“Kim was very unaffected while mixing with his ordinary surroundings, which

can’t be said about persons in his attendance. Entering Kim’s room, they bent

down respectfully in a low bow and kept standing until they received a subtle,

barely visible signal from the Warlord allowing them to stand once more. They

never referred to him in anything other than the third person. For example,

instead of the phrase ‘As you have ordered,’ they used the following: ‘As our

Dear Leader’ or ‘As our Warlord’ has ordered. The only people afforded free

conduct with Kim Jong Il were his guards.”

Kim’s guards evoked quite a different response from General Polikovsky than did

their esteemed boss. Numbering around twenty-five, the author described them as,

“too active.” At one point they grabbed the General’s own press secretary after

he had approached Kim too quickly for their comfort. They even tried to search

the Russian security guards who had been personally provided by Putin. In order

to determine where they were hiding pistols, the Koreans attempted to embrace

them jokingly or to slap them on the back or belly. Polikovsky himself suffered

such a check during the course of his tour. Given the sensitivity of the guest

in question, the Russian guards had to put their Korean colleagues in their

place in a very delicate manner.

Despite the presence of so may guards from both camps, there were some acts of

sabotage carried out in the course of Kim’s journey. Somebody evidently

attempted to derail the train by putting a concrete pillar on the rails, and

some of the train’s windows were smashed. While the Russian press insisted that

somebody had shot at the train, the author remarked with a grin that it was

simply a case of urchins throwing stones at a passing train. The only obvious

problem with that theory is that the “urchins” could hardly break the reinforced

glass of Kim’s train with stones.

The author displayed no discomfort upon learning from his guest that people in

North Korea might be executed without a court sentence or suffer corporal

punishment simply by order of the leadership. He wrote the following as if it

were something very natural, ‘”In my country,” said Kim Jong Il, “I ordered both

dealers and users of drugs to be shot. We have enough people! I also ordered

that the Chinese facilitating the spread of drugs to be beaten with sticks.” He

then added rigidly, “If you catch Korean drug addicts, please, shoot them to

death! I allow you to do it.”‘

The General clearly admires the militaristic character of the North Korean

regime, noting, “I was notified in advance about the fact that Kim Jong Il hates

to be addressed as ‘Mister.’ In fact, we began to call him ‘The Great Warlord’

and ‘Beloved Leader’ even in conversations amongst ourselves.” Interestingly, no

one seemed to note the lack of an opportunity in which Kim’s greatness as a

warlord had ever revealed itself.

In keeping with his military prowess, Kim confirms that his favorite pastime is

to mix with military officers. This clearly scored points with the author, who

adds, “Being a professional military, I was pleased by Kim’s high evaluation of

the military service.”

General Pulikovsky continues with his sympathetic view of the North Korean


“It is a great mistake to consider Kim a militarist. His country is like the

USSR of the 1950s. At that time we also considered all those who dared to

criticize our leadership to be our enemies. North Korea is strengthening its

defense because it has strained relations with certain states. But the

militarization of economy is also the most effective way of managing the state.

It provides a chance of modest feeding of great number of people.”

Kim comprehends that some other ways of transformations should be sought. One

should change economic guidelines in the country, where almost all the people

march in military order and fulfill orders of the Beloved Leader. But he also

understands that it is impossible to change the society of emphasized militarism

at one stroke.

General Polikovsky concludes that he was lucky to have accompanied someone whom

he refers to as the most enigmatic leader in the world. Although his viewpoint

is biased toward Kim Jong Il, General Pulikovsky provides a glimpse into the

life of the North Korean dictator.