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North Korea: new tensions between Russia and the West

Ⓒ Sputnik/AFP – Michael Klimentyev – | Russian President Vladimir Putin on 7 September 2017 in
Vladivostok

Vladimir Putin has emerged in recent days as one of the most
fierce opponents of new sanctions against the nuclear ambitions
of Korea North.

Since a North Korean nuclear test of unprecedented power
last Sunday, the United States, South Korea, Japan and the
European Union are calling for increased pressure on the
Pyongyang regime.

On Monday, the UN Security Council is due to vote on the
adoption of a resolution tabled by Washington imposing an oil
embargo on North Korea and freezing the assets of its leader
Kim Jong-Un.

While China, the main ally of Pyongyang, has suggested that
it may approve new sanctions, Vladimir Putin, whose country has
the right of veto in the Security Council, spent the week
criticizing the principle, to make explicit pronouncements on
the American text.

Ⓒ AFP/Archives – KENA BETANCUR – | The UN Security Council, on 4 September 2017 in New
York

The North Koreans will “eat grass but will not give up this
(nuclear) program if they do not feel safe,” he said on
Tuesday, calling for dialogue with the Pyongyang regime, a
summit in Xiamen, China, while condemning the latest North
Korean test.

For Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in
Seoul, and director of the Korearisk.com think-tank, the
Kremlin’s motives are “completely geopolitical and
cynical”.

In the eyes of Moscow, protecting Pyongyang makes it
possible to maintain a status quo preferable to a UN resolution
that can provoke North Korea’s anger, said the expert who lived
in North Korea.

Ⓒ POOL/AFP/Archives – FRED DUFOUR – | Chinese President Xi Jinping on 5 September 2017 in
Xiamen

If sanctions lead to punitive strikes, Russia, which shares
a border with North Korea, would end up with a neighbor in
chaos. And in case of regime change, the Kremlin should deal
with a pro-American ally on its eastern flank while it already
denounces the presence of NATO at its western borders

“This scenario does not please either China or Russia,”
summarizes Andrei Lankov.

– Rampart against Washington –

Ⓒ KCNA VIA KNS/AFP/Archives – – | Photo courtesy of the North Korean official KCNA agency
on September 3, 2017 of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (c)
examining a H-bomb-like device in an unspecified
location

Another potential consequence of a military escalation,
equally worrying for Moscow, would be a humanitarian crisis,
says Alexandre Jébine, Director of the Center for Korean
Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

“A military conflict in the peninsula would have disastrous
consequences for the Koreans and the entire region,” especially
South Korea, the expert said.

“Where will these 70 million inhabitants live?” he said in
reference to the population of the two Koreas, pointing out
that in the event of the use of nuclear weapons, radioactivity
would also “seriously affect Russia and China”.

These apocalyptic scenarios are considered unlikely, but for
some experts, Vladimir Putin refines with this crisis his image
of unparalleled negotiator and bulwark against the bellicose
ambitions of Washington, a few months of the presidential
election of March 2018.

Over the past few days, Putin met with South Korean
President Moon Jae-In and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,
and held talks at the Brics summit that brought together
emerging powers in Xiamen (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South
Africa).

By placing himself as a referee between a Donald Trump going
to war and an inflexible Kim, he presents himself as the voice
of reason. “We must not give in to emotions and corner North
Korea,” he insisted, calling for “cold blood”.

Many countries consider Russia to be “a means of
communication” with Pyongyang, explains Andrei Baklitski of the
independent think tank PIR. An asset that Moscow could use as a
“joker”, he says.

The Russian president, who refuses any
recognition of the nuclear status of North Korea, advocates
dialogue on the basis of the roadmap defined by Moscow and
Beijing. The latter involves the simultaneous termination of
North Korean nuclear and ballistic tests on the one hand and
joint military maneuvers between the United States and South
Korea on the other.

For Fyodor Lukyanov, a political analyst close to the
Kremlin, the issue is the main one for Russia: the country that
will succeed in resolving this political crisis and forcing
Pyongyang to take a few steps back will become “the most
influential” in Asia.

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