Cut off

August 1991

North Korea’s gaze drifted between dark circles, frizzy hair, chapped lips, and chipped fingernail polish. Russia looked awful. Maybe it was the heat; sitting out there on the veranda, they had no repose from the humidity.  Russia’s fingers were laced together on top of the garden table and she was avoiding North Korea’s gaze. Not a good sign.

After some time, she wet her lips and looked at him. When she spoke, her voice was low and soft and distant.

“I’m cutting you off.”

“Come again?”

“I’m cutting you off,” she repeated in a more pressing tone.

He leaned his head in. “Ah, how so?”

“Well,” she said, giving him a little nod before clearing her throat. “Financially.”

“Financially?” North Korea spoke like he hadn’t heard right, like he’d just been given a terrible prognosis that sent his mind reeling. In reality, that is exactly what this was like; he might as well been told he had 6 months to live.

“Russia,” North Korea started lowly, voice grave, “you do realize that Soviet aid makes a significant contribution to my economy–”

She looked down at her hands. “Oh, yes. I do know. But, um… I can’t do it anymore.”

North Korea’s eyes narrowed. “You can’t or you won’t?”

Russia cocked her head to the side while shrugging her shoulders. “A little bit of both?”

His features formed a venomous grimace.  “How easily did this decision come to you, Russia? Did you toil over it, or did you throw me to the curb without hesitation?”

“Try to understand my difficult situation! Helping you sustain yourself is simply not viable for me anymore. My economy is in ruins and I am losing everything and everyone.”

North Korea bore into her with an incriminating glare. “You’re running away. Jumping ship. Waving a white flag–”

“Please, continue with metaphors.”

“What happened to ‘Communist solidarity?'” North Korea demanded. “What happened to the world we were both fighting for?”

“I believe that’s, um…” She swallowed to clear the lump in her throat. “Over. It’s over, now.”

North Korea stared at her and she down at the table. A suffocating silence grew between them—until North Korea ruined it.

“Alright. Okay.” At first, his voice was alarmingly calm. That didn’t last long. “I understand now.” He jumped up. “You’re a traitor!”

The force of his anger caused Russia to jolt back. “North Korea, please—”

“‘Please‘ my ass!” He was too angry to care about the implications of his diction. “I was an idiot for believing in you!” He began stomping around, pacing back and forth. “I thought you were strong, Russia! I supported you because I firmly believed that together we could stop the West from hurting our brothers and sisters. But look at you!” He stopped pacing only to slam his hands down on the table. “You’re weak! You can’t even save your own empire. You let the United States and those rebellious republics walk all over you!”

“These personal attacks are unnecessary,” Russia said quietly. For the first time in the fifty years he’d known her, North Korea heard pain in her voice. Real pain. It scared the hell out of him.

He slowly backed away from the table. “I don’t need your aid.”

Russia scowled. “You stupid child! Of course you need me! You admitted to that not ten minutes ago! Don’t stand there and pretend that everything will be the same when it won’t!” Her personal turmoil was bleeding through, bright and red.

“Yes, it will! I would have been perfectly fine without your help all these years!” Said the country who would absolutely not have been perfectly fine without Russia’s help. “I built my own country, I created my own ideology, and I survived my own war without you!”

He folded his arms defiantly. “So, do it! Go ahead and cut me off! See if I care!” He kicked his chair over then immediately regretted it (because it was a nice chair). “I don’t care! You’re the one who cares! I’m not even angry! Nor will I ever be!” He took a step away, but stopped and turned back to her.”By the way? I hate you.” That was when he stormed off.

With Russia out of the picture, North Korea had only one person to run to.

***

North Korea cried (literally so at times) to China for a good while. Eventually, the older country managed to calm his comrade down, and he allowed North Korea to hang around the office should the Korean be once again overcome by fits of emotion. Meanwhile, China went back to work.

“I don’t blame them,” North Korea said in a grumpy tone after a while.

“Blame who?”

“The ones who left. Estonia, Armenia, Ukraine, and the rest. Russia is a damn fool. The Soviet Union was destined for failure.”

“I told you so,” China said impassively. He paused before asking, “Our world has gotten a lot smaller now, hasn’t it? Does that scare you?”

“Does that scare me? I… I don’t know.” He was given time to think, and soon he came up with a better answer. “No. I don’t see why it should. I’m strong. I’ll fight for what I believe in, and I’d rather die than give up like she did.”

China finally looked up from his work, the faintest hint of a smile tugging the corner of his mouth. “Then we have nothing to worry about.”


Notes

I wasn’t sure about the exact date that the Soviet Union dropped aid to North Korea, but it was during Boris Yelstin’s time in office (1991-1999). So I went for August because the USSR was pretty much toast by then, anyway.

China was kind of on the economic path to capitalism at this point in time, but ideologically the country was still touting Marxist-Leninism. China was (and still is) run by the Communist Party of China. That’s why North Korea didn’t question his authenticity as a true comrade.

I’m now including links to some important context stuff inside the actual story. E.g., the link to the Wiki article about the fall of the Soviet Union. Is it distracting? Or does it help you out? Let me know what you guys think.

This was loosely based on the episode of Portlandia titled “3D Printer.” Good show. Worth a watch.

Author: Allison Black

Allison is an author, nerd, and international relations major who loves bad political jokes. When she's not writing or gushing about global affairs, she's playing video games. One day she will have a Ph.D., speak Korean fluently, and command an army of chihuahuas.

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