By Paul Goble
US President Donald Trump says that Moscow is not just failing to help the US on North Korea but is undermining the impact of sanctions China among others has agreed to. But the situation is even worse, Kseniya Kirillova says. The Kremlin has sent a clear message that it is ready to continue to support Pyongyang’s nuclear blackmail tactics.
Various analysts have suggested that Washington would seek Moscow’s assistance on North Korea, the US-based Russian journalist says, but that apparently has not happened. Instead, the US hoped that Russia would go along with the internationally approved sanctions regime (slavicsac.com/2018/01/17/kremlins-nuclear-blackmailing/).
And Moscow is angry at being ignored or sidelined from a conflict in which it believed it would be a key player and that it could use as leverage on the United States about other issues, including possibly a softening or even a lifting of sanctions. Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the US, implied as much in a speech in San Francisco.
The American decision not to appeal to Moscow was made even more stinging for the Kremlin by Washington’s achievement of an agreement on North Korea with Beijing, Kirillova argues. In support of her argument, she offers a detailed discussion of a new article by Andrey Lankov, perhaps Russia’s most prominent specialist on the Koreas.
On the portal of the Carnegie Moscow Center, he said that China not Russia has been the one that has made current sanctions ineffective and that any new sanctions would “not in any case correspond to the interests of Russia” (carnegie.ru/commentary/75259). China too had been against sanctions, Lankov said, but now it is conforming to American demands.
But it is what the St. Petersburg-based analyst says next that is critical: He describes “an apocalyptic picture” in which sanctions will produce an economic crisis in North Korea but instead of forcing Pyongyang to back down, that will only make it more committed to developing its nuclear and missile programs – and possibly to use the results.
According to Kirillova, “behind these words is a completely clear message to the West and china: If broad new sanctions toward North Korea are introduced without Moscow’s opinion being taken into account, Russia will use to the maximum degree its influence in Pyongyang to strengthen the Korean efforts at nuclear blackmail.”
If new sanctions lead to popular risings, Pyongyang won’t back down as it has the Libyan case very much in mind, Kirillova says. Instead, having been pushed into a corner, it “may try to provoke a conflict with the outside world” and if that should prove the case, Lankov’s words suggest, it may strike out even with nuclear weapons at its neighbors.
But the St. Petersburg analyst warns that even if the sanctions worked as intended and led to the overthrow of the Kim family dictatorship in North Korea, that would not be a good thing but would mark “the beginning of an extremely complex period which would touch not only both Koreas and all neighboring countries.”
Because of this, Kirillova says, Lankov gives the following specific advice to Russian diplomats at the UN: “seek the softening of resolutions on sanctions and in general do everything that china has been doing over the course of the last decade by including in the text of the resolution the maximum number of loopholes which would allow North Korea more or less freely to trade its non-military production.”
From what one can tell, Kirillova says, “Russian diplomats have adopted this strategy even without Lankov’s advice.” Donald Trump has recognized part of this Moscow approach, but he has not yet pointed to the even more dangerous aspects of Russian policy on Pyongyang that very well may lie ahead.