20 January 2018 – San Francisco, US

Kseniya Kirillova

It seems that Russian diplomats and propagandists are beginning to openly blackmail Washington with the North Korean nuclear threat. By the way, the first to mention the possibility of such blackmail was a Russian publicist Andrei Piontkovsky in early November of last year, though back then he suggested that ​​Putin would get this idea from the United States itself. In particular, he noted that the US can ask the Kremlin “for help in solving another security problem for the United States – the rapidly growing nuclear missile potential of the DPRK of Russian origin.

However, it seems that an expected request for Kremlin’s help never came, and the Russian authorities had to hint to the slow-witted “Western partners” that without the renewal of their cooperation with Moscow, they can expect not just a couple of new “tsarnaevs”, but a possible nuclear apocalypse. This thankless mission was undertaken by the Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov, who during his speeches in Northern California repeatedly stated that Russia is the largest nuclear power and can help in negotiations with Pyongyang.

Putin with Kim Jong-un’s father, c. 2000

Russia is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and the world’s second largest nuclear power. We are ready to offer our assistance in negotiations with the DPRK, as we too are concerned about the growing nuclear potential of North Korea,” Antonov assured, doing his best to convince the audience that the United States cannot do without Russia’s help in resolving the North Korean crisis. By the way, Andrei Piontkovsky later called this tactic “Kremlin’s nuclear offshore.” At the same time, the Kremlin did not offer any concrete solutions to the problem, except for abstract words about “the need for a diplomatic settlement.” The main goal of Putin’s veiled blackmail was to show that Russia is essential to resolving the crisis and therefore the US needs to abandon its sanctions and restore relations with Moscow.

However, even here the Kremlin strategists were met with failure. It seems that Washington has decided to implement its own plan to combat the North Korean threat – bypassing the ardent “helpers” among Kremlin’s higher-ups. Moreover, to implement this plan, the US found new allies, namely China, which unexpectedly supported Washington’s new sanctions against the DPRK. At the same time, no “mediation” help from Russia was needed.

As a result, a recent article on the site of the Carnegie Moscow Center (the same one that the major US media has already called the “Trojan horse” of Russian influence in the West) sharply criticized the positions of Washington and Beijing. Its author, Andrei Lankov, pointedly stated that the consequences of the new sanctions against North Korea “in no way correspond to the Russia’s interests.” In his opinion, Moscow’s interests were much more in line with the situation when the previous sanctions against the DPRK were absolutely ineffective, moreover, they were constantly sabotaged by Beijing.

The sanctions imposed by the Security Council before 2016 were semi-symbolic in nature … The first rounds of sanctions concerned only products that did not play a significant role in North Korean foreign trade … In fact, sanctions were sabotaged by China at all stages… As the Chinese leadership is not enthusiastic about the prospects of a civil war in a nuclear-armed country on its border, this position was quite rational. In addition, Beijing realized that the end result of the crisis in the DPRK could be the reunification of two Koreas under the German scenario, that is the emergence of a nationalistic and democratic state on the Chinese borders, which would remain a strategic military ally of the United States,” remembers Lankov.

In the same article, the author pointed out that a few months ago China’s position had radically changed.

Chinese diplomats are no longer delaying the adoption of resolutions, as they often did before; on the contrary, they not only faithfully follow the US lead, but they are trying to ensure that representatives of Russia do the same,” Lankov complains.

Further, Andrei Lankov paints an absolutely apocalyptic picture, warning that the sanctions will cause an economic crisis in the DPRK, but the result of this crisis won’t be a popular discontent pushing the North Korean authorities to make concessions, but, on the contrary, the acceleration of the development of the Korean nuclear program.

The lessons of Libya have been fully absorbed by Pyongyang. If there are signs of widespread discontent in North Korea, the North Korean leadership, most likely, will not only not consider abandoning nuclear weapons, but, on the contrary, will assign even higher priority to the development of nuclear potential. New sanctions can provoke an economic and political crisis in the DPRK, but they cannot lead to changes in the policy of the DPRK leadership on the nuclear issue – moreover, with some probability sanctions will lead to the strengthening of this policy,” Lankov assures the Western reader.

In fact, behind these words is a very clear message to the West and China: if full-scale sanctions against the DPRK are imposed without taking into account Moscow’s opinion, Russia will make the most of its influence on Pyongyang in order to increase the North Korean nuclear blackmail. At the same time, the author from the Moscow Carnegie Center was so carried away by the reporting of this message that he clearly overdid it, assuring that even the popular unrest caused by the widespread discontent, can lead to a nuclear strike:

If the unrest does not just start, but also gets out of control, the situation can take an even more unpleasant turn. The North Korean leadership, finally driven into a corner, may try to provoke a conflict with the outside world. If Kim Jong-un and his entourage decide that they have no more chances of escape, they may well want to die in a burst of glory and launch a strike (perhaps nuclear) against their neighbors,” threatened Lankov.

The following passage is even more perplexing. It turns out, according to Lankov, that even the victory of the democratic revolution and the fall of the North Korean dictatorial regime is an undesirable scenario for Russia.

Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung stadium, c. 2008

Even the possible victory of the North Korean revolution is, most likely, not a cause for enthusiasm. The fall of the Kim family regime, even if it does not lead to an international crisis, will still be the beginning of a very difficult period, which will affect not only the two Koreas, but all neighboring countries,” he warns.

It is not clear how this relates to Lankov’s words from the same article, where he asserts that China is afraid of the appearance on its borders of a “democratic state that will remain a military-strategic ally of the United States.” Thus, the author contradicts himself, first pointing out that the main “negative” consequence of sanctions will be the creation of a normal, pro-Western democratic state, then prophesying instability and nuclear chaos – in full accordance with the old mantras of Russian propaganda.

At the same time, Lankov openly advises Russian diplomats in the United Nations “to seek mitigation of sanctions resolutions and generally do what the Chinese have been actively engaged in over the last decade by including in the text of the resolutions the maximum number of loopholes that would allow the DPRK to carry on unfettered trade in civilian products” and “would stop the sanctions juggernaut“.

Apparently, Russian diplomats adhere to this strategy even without Lankov’s advice. Recently, for example, US President Donald Trump openly accused Russia of helping the DPRK to overcome the sanctions and acting in a way that “nullifies Beijing’s efforts”. It’s understood that Trump may have his own personal motives for such statements: against the backdrop of the ongoing investigation of the alleged collusion of his team with the Kremlin and his own efforts to sabotage the sanctions imposed by the United States on Moscow, it’s advantageous for him to distance himself from the Kremlin, at least in words.

However, this does not negate the fact that Russia does in every possible way sabotage sanctions against Pyongyang, along with the toughening of its rhetoric and raising the level of its nuclear blackmail – to the extent that it becomes obvious even to an unsophisticated reader.


Feature Photo: North Korean Ballistic Missile – Stefan Krasowski, Flickr, 2018

Inset Photo: Putin with Kim Jong-un’s father, c. 2000 – Kremlin.ru, 2018

Inset Photo: Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung stadium, c. 2008 – Wikimedia Commons, 2018

DefenceReport’s Analysis is a multi-format blog that is based on opinions, insights and dedicated research from DefRep editorial staff and writers. The analysis expressed here are the author’s own and are separate from DefRep reports, which are based on independent and objective reporting.


By Kseniya Kirillova

Kseniya Kirillova is a Russian journalist that focuses on analyzing Russian society, political processes in modern Russia and the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. She writes for Radio Liberty and other outlets and is an expert of the Ukrainian Center for Army, conversion, and disarmament studies and the Free Russia foundation.