The Russian government – undoubtedly after detailed consultations with China – has now issued a series of warnings to the US against any attacks on North Korea.
The warnings have come in statements by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and by President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
In relation to the possibility of US military strikes on North Korea, Lavrov pointedly said that these would be both destabilising and contrary to international law
We find Pyongyang’s adventurous missile launches unacceptable as they are a violation of the UN Security Council’s resolutions….[but] I hope that there will be no more unilateral actions like the one we have recently seen in Syria while the United States will pursue the course which President (Donald) Trump has announced during his election campaign.
Lavrov also pointedly criticised US Vice-President Pence’s assertion that the US under previous administrations had exercised “strategic patience” towards North Korea
I can’t say that Obama’s presidency was “an era of strategic patience” because the United States took quite tough steps against North Korea in order to hamper the development of industries important for missile and nuclear programs…..the UN Security Council also imposed rather severe sanctions and on many occasions condemned Pyongyang’s activities
Lavrov’s comments were echoed by Peskov‘s
Our position is well-known and consistent. We are urging all the sides for restraint and urging all the countries to avoid any actions that could be qualified as a provocation. And we stand for continued coordinated international efforts in existing formats to settle the North Korean problem
These are restrained words, reflecting Russia’s marginal role in the North Korea crisis. Their purpose is to signal Russia’s support for China, whose diplomacy is at the forefront in this crisis, not to take the lead in a crisis in which Russia has little direct interest and no obvious role.
This exactly matches China’s role in the Syrian crisis. It is Russia which is taking the lead in that crisis, with China playing a supporting role, making its support for Russia’s stance clear without over-dramatising it in a way that might complicate Russia’s diplomacy whilst making unnecessary difficulties for China’s own relations with the US.
Similarly Russia is playing a supportive role in the North Korean crisis, knowing that a stronger and more public approach would achieve nothing, and by escalating tensions even further, might even complicate the work of China’s diplomats, and annoy Beijing.