Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters in Moscow on Thursday that he believes North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has “obviously won this round” against the West and that Kim is a “shrewd and mature” politician.
The overture is the latest in a series of actions the Russian government has taken to bring North Korea deeper into its orbit, challenging China’s diplomatic supremacy over the communist country.
“I think that Mr. Kim Jong-un has obviously won this round. He has completed his strategic task: he has a nuclear weapon, he has missiles of global reach, up to 13,000 km, which can reach almost any point of the globe,” Putin said, according to Reuters.
“He is already a shrewd and mature politician,” he added.
The Moscow Times notes that Putin also took the time to insult Western politicians, suggesting that it was a mistake for many in the West to call for Putin to allow his most high-profile political rival, Alexei Navalny. Navalny, who has condemned Putin’s oligarchy and organized protests against the Kremlin for years, announced presidential ambitions in 2017. The Russian government subsequently accused Navalny of corruption and banned him from being on the 2018 ballot; Putin regularly refers to him as a “convicted individual.” Navalny has released a presidential policy platform, anyway. The U.S. State Department has “expressed concern” about his case.
On Thursday, Putin referred to Navalny as “that individual you mentioned” when asked about him. Of his Western supporters, Putin said, “They screwed up. It would be better if they stayed quiet.”
Putin’s comments, both in support of Kim and urging the West to “stay quiet,” are revealing of a policy that has been in the making for months. The Russian government has consistently refused to sign onto sanctions against North Korea, citing sanctions against Russia itself, and has been dismissive of any pressure put on the regime.
In remarks last September, Putin himself argued that dissuading the North Korean regime from building a nuclear weapon is impossible because “they will eat grass but they will not turn away from the path that will provide for their security.”
“What can establish security? The restoration of international law. We should promote dialogue among all interested parties,” he offered instead, calling sanctions a “road to nowhere.”
Since the Trump administration rallied support for several rounds of sanctions against Kim Jong-un, the North Korean regime has agreed to bilateral talks with South Korea and will send an athletic delegation to the Winter Olympics in that country this year.
Putin also told reporters during that exchange that Russia would not support sanctions on North Korea because “it’s ridiculous to put us on the same list as North Korea and then ask for our help in imposing sanctions on North Korea.”
In December, the Kremlin offered to mediate talks between the United States and North Korea, an offer rejected by both sides. Putin’s government nonetheless urged the world to give Russia a greater role in resolving the crisis.
“We have channels, through which we are conducting a dialogue, and we are ready to deploy them, we are ready to exert our influence on North Korea,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov argued in December. “We believe that the isolation alone … will not work, this won’t take us forward. By doing this, we will only worsen the situation, which is dangerous. We are really on the brink of a real war.”
Reports from citizen journalists revealed at nearly the same time that Russian vessels were helping smuggle oil into North Korea, offering relief from U.N. sanctions. The reported result of these shipments was a 25-percent drop in the price of oil within North Korea.