Russian President Vladimir Putin says Moscow will “exhaust every effort” to resolve the simmering tensions in the Korean Peninsula peacefully, stressing that the Kremlin abhors the very idea of a possible nuclear war between Russia’s neighbor North Korea and the US.
The Russian Federation, for its part, “will do everything in [its] power to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula. We for our part are ready to exhaust every effort towards this end,” the Russian leader said in an interview with the Austrian broadcaster ORF on Tuesday, pointing out that the Kremlin has always been in contact with Pyongyang.
Putin’s comments came a day after his spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced that Moscow had officially invited North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to visit Russia, saying that one of the possible occasions for the visit could be the 4th Eastern Economic Forum, slated to be held on September 11-13, in Vladivostok, Russia’s Far Eastern city near its border with the North.
Along with China, Russia has provided North Korea with its basic economic and military needs during years of intensive US-led sanctions on Pyongyang over its controversial nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The two countries have indicated that they would not completely stand aside regarding the current flurry of diplomacy over the North’s military programs.
The invitation by Kremlin also reflect the wariness of both Moscow and Beijing of the US influence in East Asia, and a drive by both powers to make their own imprint on talks on the Korean peninsula’s denuclearization and peace process.
During the past few months, Kim has travelled to China twice to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and met with the South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, which separates the two peninsular countries.
The North leader will also meet with US President Donald Trump in a much-anticipated summit on June 12 in Singapore. Trump officially cancelled the meeting on May 24 before retracting that cancellation just a day later.
The White House has demanded that North Korea denuclearize, but different American officials have offered different versions of that demand. Some have said denuclearization — which the US has also said must happen at one stage — is a pre-condition for the summit. Moscow, however, believes that one-stage denuclearization is not possible.
When asked about the possibility of a nuclear war between North Korea and the US in case bilateral talks failed to succeed, Putin said that he did not “even want to think about it”, describing the very idea as “dreadful.”
“Russia, of all countries, is not interested in it [nuclear war] because North Korea is our neighbor,” he said, explaining that some Korean nuclear test sites are located less than a couple of hundred kilometers from the Russian border and “this is something absolutely real for us.”
Putin also said that he pinned “great hopes” on the Trump-Kim meeting next week. He, however, stressed that “the road towards denuclearization of North Korea should be a two-way road”, implying that Washington should also make some concessions instead of just placing demands on the North.
“If the North Korean leader is backing up his intentions with practical actions, for example, giving up new tests of ballistic missiles, new nuclear tests, the other side should reciprocate in a tangible manner,” Putin further said, adding that continued US military drills, some of which held jointly with South Korea, in the area would be “counterproductive.”
On April 21, and in the midst of diplomacy with South Korea, Kim said he would be suspending the North’s nuclear and missile tests and shut down a nuclear test site to pursue economic growth and peace on the Korean Peninsula, a move that attracted global praise and also prompted hope of a détente between the US and North Korea.
Seoul and Pyongyang had already been reaching out to one another since January. For almost seven decades before that, and since a war in the 1950s, the two Koreas had been in a state of perpetual hostility.