Russia conducted over the weekend an emergency drill to respond to a massive inflow of North Korean refugees in the settlement of Khasan, Primorsky Krai. Russian soldiers played the role of refugees and others set up camps and provided food and medical supplies. The drill was the second of its kind following one in August 2003. Moscow apparently believes that a contingency could erupt at any time due to internal instability in North Korea.
The drill was part of Vostok 2010, a military maneuver conducted by the Russian armed forces, that runs through Thursday. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev reportedly observed the exercise and stressed the importance of deterrence to deal with the rapidly changing situation in Northeast Asia. Russia has presented itself as a guardian of North Korea in international society. Moscow has not condemned Pyongyang for the sinking of the Cheonan though Russia secured sufficient evidence of the Norths involvement by sending its inspectors to South Korea. So the drill indicates growing instability in North Korea.
In August 2005, Russia conducted a joint military drill with China in border areas with the North. American experts said the exercise was to prevent U.S. forces from advancing to the North Korean border with Russia and China in case of a contingency in the North and U.S. forces subsequent entry into the North. This indicates that Beijing and Moscow are simultaneously preparing for an influx of North Korean refugees and for U.S. military entry into the North.
The fate of the Stalinist country grew more unclear in 2008 after leader Kim Jong Il reportedly fell ill. Pyongyang has apparently stepped up preparation to transfer power to his youngest son, Kim Jong Un. The elder Kim apparently showed anxiety over the succession by having his younger sister Kyong Hui and her husband Jang Sung Taek follow him instead of his close aides at public appearances this year.
Signs are appearing that the North could be in a situation uncontrollable by its government due to severe internal instability. South Korea should also be prepared for an emergency with a sense of urgency and carry out drills like Russia and China are doing. If Seoul fails to make thorough preparation, peace on the Korean Peninsula could be threatened by a sudden turn of events.