Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov has attempted to insert calm into debates on North Korea at a time when for totally different reasons, Washington and Pyongyang are both exaggerating the fire-power of North Korea’s missile programme.
Pyongyang asserts that it has fully functional ICBMs which can deliver a nuclear payload to anywhere in the United States. The US likewise agrees that Pyongyang missiles are indeed ICBMs.
Russia however, which shares a border with North Korea has repeatedly said that North Korea’s supposed ICMBs are in fact rather rudimentary intermediate range missiles.
Sergey Ryabkov explained more in a recent interview.
“I think we are years and years away from a moment they can weaponize. What they are testing are quite primitive devices which require months for preparation, and which are essentially pieces of equipment with all sorts of wires and additional elements around, which simply cannot be put on top of any missile”.
“We are in the process of discussing a draft resolution for the UN Security Council that would take further measures, and we are prepared to do so, but this resolution should not equate measures that are targeted on stopping the illegal activities of Pyongyang in the area of nuclear weaponization and missile developments to the economic suffocation of the whole country.
Here we have a red line which we should observe. We’re hoping we will find a way forward collectively, co-operatively in New York at the Security Council and we will continue our bilateral exchanges with Washington on this issue because it’s very serious and it’s dangerous… and we are concerned (because) North Korea is very close to Russian borders”.
There is more to Ryabkov’s statements than initially meets the eye. Far from trying to insult North Korea by saying their weapons are less powerful than they claim, Ryabkov is actually acting to calm tensions for the benefit of both Korean states, as each would clearly be devastated in the event of the war in Korea becoming a hot conflict once again.
It is in Pyongyang’s interest to occasionally exaggerate its firepower in an attempt to deter American aggression. North Korea’s fears of an American invasion are predicated on America’s reduction of Pyongyang to rubble in 1950.
The destruction which remains etched on the minds of even young North Koreans is the primary reason for North Korea’s weapons programmes and always has been. Recent American wars of aggression on countries which did not have nuclear weapons programmes such as Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and Syria have further reinforced the fact that North Korea’s weapons programme is largely a deterrent.
Likewise, the United States seeks to exaggerate North Korea’s firepower to fit the US narrative of taking a tough line on sanctions against North Korea and furthermore, leaving the door open to US military action against Pyongyang, even though this still remains a remote, however increasing possibility.
Russia by contrast seeks calm and dialogue from all sides and most importantly, Russia seeks to avoid a war on its borders. China seeks exactly the same thing which is why both Russia and China have mutually advocated for a cessation of all military actions in and around the Korean peninsula by all parties, including the United States. It is also why both Russia and China do not seek to cripple the North Korean economy, a measure that would not only be harmful to North Korean civilians but would ultimately make Pyongyang if anything, more aggressive, less trustful and more entrenched.
In this sense, Russia is acting like a proverbial grandfather figure in an argument between a child defending himself against the world’s biggest bully where both sides ought to refrain from escalating what amounts to a non-conflict.