Russia has rejected U.S. calls to cut economic and diplomatic ties with North Korea after the dictatorship’s latest provocative missile test. The Russians made a point of ridiculing the effectiveness of sanctions and blaming the United States for rising tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “poured scorn on Washington’s call to cut ties with North Korea and introduce new sanctions against it,” according to an AFP report.
“We have repeatedly stated that the pressure of sanctions has been exhausted,” Lavrov said to reporters in Minsk on Thursday.
“It’s as if the recent actions of the United States are consciously directed to provoke Pyongyang towards other radical actions. The impression is that everything has been done to prompt Kim Jong-un to lose it and take another reckless step. It’s sad,” he added, citing U.S.-South Korean military drills as an example of such “radical actions.”
“The Americans need to explain what they are aiming for. If they are looking for a reason to destroy North Korea, then they should say it straight and the American leadership should confirm it,” said Lavrov.
“We have already emphasized several times that the squeeze of sanctions has essentially come to an end, and that those resolutions which introduced the sanctions should have included a requirement to renew the political process, a requirement to renew talks. But the Americans completely ignore this requirement and I consider this a big mistake,” he elaborated.
The Russian foreign minister was responding to calls for tighter sanctions and isolation of the regime in Pyongyang by U.S. officials such as U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who called the North Korean launch an “act of aggression” and urged a stronger oil embargo against North Korea.
“Through sanctions, we have cut off 90 percent of North Korean trade and 30 percent of its oil. But the crude oil remains. The major supplier of that oil is China,” Haley said. “We are once again at a time of reckoning. North Korea’s behavior has become more intolerable.”
Senator Franz Klintsevich, the deputy head of Russia’s Defense and Security Committee, said on Wednesday that North Korea is bluffing about having developed intercontinental ballistic missile technology—and even if they have, their missile program “does not threaten Russia,” so Russia does not need to do anything about it.
“The main thing is that North Korea’s behavior seems defiant. In the given instance, Pyongyang is pitting the global community against itself. There is no necessity for these actions really,” said Klintsevich.
Klintsevich did seem to think Pyongyang might be on the verge of going too far.
“The latest launches exceed beyond the bounds of common sense and the rational and necessary self-defense,” he said, adding that Russian representatives in North Korea have warned the Kim regime that it risks a “harsh retort” from Russia at the United Nations if it continues its provocative behavior.
A delegation from the Russian parliament currently visiting North Korea was supposed to deliver an official condemnation of Wednesday’s missile test, but could not get in touch with their North Korean counterparts for the promised tongue-lashing.
“So far, we were unable to establish any contact with them. But I’m sure that our lawmakers will deliver Russia’s stance during meetings and negotiations with representatives of the North Korean leadership,” senior lawmaker Leonid Slutsky told the TASS news service.
Slutsky went on to call the North Korean missile launch “yet another irresponsible move by Pyongyang, intended to fuel tensions in the region,” but then lapsed into the Russian party line that America and South Korea bear at least as much responsibility for the unpleasant situation.
“One has to admit that Washington and Seoul have on many occasions provoked the North Korean leadership by their hostile rhetoric and military exercises in vicinity of the North Korean border. Unfortunately, all sides only continue to fuel tensions, and this may have very nasty consequences,” he mused.
Unlike Klintsevich, Slutsky thinks North Korea’s missile program is a problem for Russia. “Russia cannot stay aside, because all those events are taking place in vicinity of our borders,” he pointed out.
“We have issued numerous warnings at all levels about the possible catastrophic consequences that those destructive policies may have for the whole world. Moscow has repeatedly said that it does not support North Korea’s self-proclaimed nuclear status and condemns missile launches carried out in breach of UN Security Council resolutions. We will continue to watch the situation closely,” Slutsky declared.
None of these Russian critics have explained how diplomatic arguments are supposed to persuade North Korea to give up a nuclear missile program it has nearly completed after decades of effort, plus enormous costs imposed by the sanctions it has already weathered. Russia and China assume the North Koreans would agree to a deal that scuttles their missile program in exchange for the cessation of U.S.-South Korean military drills, but there is no indication whatsoever that Pyongyang is interested in such a deal; they merely complain incessantly about U.S. military drills and claim they need nuclear missiles to defend their sovereignty.
The Russian position is tantamount to accepting North Korea as a nuclear power while writing them a few stern letters of rebuke to ensure the official record shows that no one outside of Pyongyang was happy about it. America, South Korea, Japan, and other allies have made it clear they will not accept North Korea as a nuclear power. Such stark binary choices do not lend themselves to delicate multilateral diplomatic solutions. Russia remains more interested in scoring a few cheap rhetorical points against the U.S. and running out the clock than finding a solution.