Russian pundits: Still calm about Korea?

It remains to be seen whether a new war will break out on the Korean Peninsula. Source: AP

It remains to be seen whether a new war will break out on the Korean Peninsula. Source: AP

Regardles of the fact that Russian pundits are concerned by growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, most argue that a full-scale war will not break out.

Although the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs has advised diplomatic missions to leave the country by April 10 and Russian experts are concerned by mounting tensions on the Korean Peninsula,  most do not see any real danger of a full-scale war breaking out.

On Friday, April 5, amid rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked diplomatic missions – including the Russian Embassy – to consider evacuating their staffs, RIA Novosti news agency reports, citing a spokesperson for the Russian Embassy in Pyongyang. North Korean authorities suggested that they could not guarantee the safety of foreign diplomats after April 10.

“On April 5, a representative of the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs suggested that Russia consider evacuating its Embassy staff. The Russian side has taken note of the proposal. The same proposal has been made to other diplomatic missions in North Korea,” the spokesperson said over the telephone.

He noted that, at present, the Russian Embassy in Pyongyang is operating as usual: “Everything is calm. There are no tensions here.”

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs promptly reacted to the alarming reports coming from North Korea, with which Russia shares a 10-mile land border.

“We are trying to clear up the situation and ask the questions that have to be asked in such cases,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told journalists.

Later, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website reported that Russia considers building up “military hysteria” to be categorically unacceptable.

“We count on the maximum restraint and cool-headedness of all the parties involved,” the statement said.

To this effect, Russia has still not put its Eastern Military District troops in the Far East on alert, despite growing tensions on the Korean peninsula. There has been no such necessity for such a move so far, a source with the local security agencies told Interfax-AVN.

Similarly, in spite of the worrisome reports coming from the Korean Peninsula, experts doubt that things will come to full-scale military actions.

“I do not think it is a sign of war,” Leonid Kalashnikov, first deputy chairman of the State Duma Committee for International Relations said.

Alexander Vorontsov, head of the Department of Korea and Mongolia at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Oriental Studies, shares this view.

“I think it is a psychological move to put pressure on potential opponents, and designed to demonstrate once again North Korea’s determination. I do not think it means that war is inevitable,” Vorontsov told RBTH over the telephone.

According to Vorontsov, the situation on the peninsula reflects continued escalation in the region, and, although there is no cause for panic yet, the international community must lend every effort to lessen the tensions.

“The most correct move on the part of the international community would be to resume contacts with Pyongyang,” said Vorontsov. He believes it is necessary to organize a special mission and dispatch a special envoy to the region to defuse tensions.

The head of the Russian Federation Council’s International Affairs Committee, Mikhail Margelov, agrees.

"We all hope for the North Korean leadership's reasonability, and the international community represented by the P5+1 group has a negotiating mechanism. Russia always keeps the door for such negotiations open, so as to be able to discuss ways to settle the situation with Pyongyang within the P5+1 framework," Margelov told journalists on April 10.

However, Georgy Toloraya, director of Korean Programs at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Economics, provided a less comforting forecast.

“It looks as if  Kim Jong-un has decided to go for broke and establish himself at any cost as a strong leader for many years, and with whom it is better not to quarrel,” Toloraya said in an interview with RBTH. “Unfortunately, military clashes on the border are not out of the question, in Kaesong or on the Yellow Sea. It would not be sufficient for Kim Jong-un to confine himself to mere words.”

The expert added that, if the propaganda campaign the North Korean leader has been waging in recent months does not produce the desired effect, “he will have to prove to his entourage and to the external world that he really is dangerous.”

In Toloraya’s opinion, this may result in a series of localized skirmishes that should not develop into a full-scale war. “Neither Kim Jong-un nor his opponents need a war right now. But, despite the intentions of the parties, some kind of escalation may occur spontaneously. And that is extremely dangerous,” he said.

One more reason why the situation may become more complex is Kim Jong-un’s approaching birthday on April 15 and the People’s Army Day on April 25.

In the light of the upcoming celebrations, Toloraya observes that more rocket launches are likely to be organized; this is extremely dangerous in the current situation, as the rocket may be shot down. That would give North Korea a pretext for turning up the rhetoric and military hysteria, as well as an official pretext for retaliatory military actions.

The latest crisis on the Korean Peninsula was triggered by North Korea’s third nuclear test, which it held on February 12, 2013. In response to these tests, the U.N. Security Council approved new sanctions against the country on March 7.

In March, the United States and South Korea held large-scale Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises, wherein dummy bombs were used to practice nuclear strikes on North Korea.

On March 5, North Korea suspended the Armistice Agreement signed at the end of the 1950–1953 Korean War with the U.S., and, on March 8, it renounced all of the non-aggression agreements between Pyongyang and Seoul.  

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