[Column] How Putin’s playing the North Korea card

Posted on : 2024-02-06 17:14 KST Modified on : 2024-02-06 17:14 KST
This recent ordeal demonstrates that the increasingly close strategic ties between North Korea and Russia are casting shadows on South Korea’s own relationship with Russia
(Illustration by Jaewoogy@chol.com)
(Illustration by Jaewoogy@chol.com)

Recent comments by President Yoon Suk-yeol regarding North Korea have prompted South Korea and Russia to butt heads, with each side hurling scathing criticisms at the other and summoning each other’s diplomats.
 
It is indeed unusual that Yoon’s remarks made on Jan. 31 calling the leadership in Pyongyang an “irrational group” for being the only country in the world to legislate the preemptive use of nuclear weapons prompted a Russian foreign affairs official to lash out by labeling such comments as “blatantly biased” and “odious.”
 
This recent ordeal demonstrates that the increasingly close strategic ties between North Korea and Russia are casting shadows on South Korea’s own relationship with Russia, as well as on the situation on the Korean Peninsula as a whole.
 
Moscow seems to have taken issue with Yoon’s comments about Pyongyang to flaunt just how close it’s gotten to the latter, likely to get the most out of playing the North Korea card in a gambit to gain the upper hand in its war on Ukraine. 

Reports that North Korea was supplying arms to Russia started to emerge in the weeks leading up to the summit between Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un last September. With not even China providing arms to Russia, the large amount of munitions and missiles supplied by North Korea has become an important factor in turning the tide of the war in Ukraine in Russia’s favor.
 
While all this was happening, Russia continued to threaten South Korea by implying that it would hand over advanced military technology to North Korea if South Korea provided artillery shells to Ukraine in an attempt to curtail the supply of lethal weaponry to its rival. 
 
Recently, analyses have emerged that argue that Russia is trying to use North Korea to intentionally inflame tensions in Northeast Asia. The logic is that if North Korea, armed with a new confidence enabled by Russian support, carried out regional-level provocations and ratcheted up its nuclear and missile threats, the US, Europe, and Asia would start to lose interest in supporting Ukraine.
 
This tactic is similar to that of the one utilized by Stalin during the Korean War, when Stalin gave the go-ahead to Kim Il-sung to invade South Korea so that the US would focus its attention on Asia, enabling the Soviet Union to gain the upper hand in Europe.
 
Similar concerns are emerging in China as well. Fang Ning, a former director and researcher of the Institute of Political Science at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a chair professor at Sichuan University, stated at a forum in January that Russia was trying its best to “muddy the waters” outside of Ukraine and trigger more flashpoints so as to distract the West and thus alleviate the pressure on Russia.
 
He went on to warn that China should be “on the alert” for any attempts by Russia to stir up trouble under its nose.
 
Many Chinese experts are of the opinion that Russia’s provision of technology related to advanced missiles, reconnaissance satellites, and submarines to North Korea poses not only a danger to South Korea, but to China as well.
 
Both Putin and Kim Jong-un are becoming increasingly brazen, egged on by the growing trend of American isolationism. The possible re-election of Trump, which appears more likely by the day, is making them hopeful that the US will withdraw its troops from South Korea as well as withdraw from NATO.
 
South Korea should be wary of the dangers that will accompany deepening North Korea-Russia ties, but squabbling over Russia’s criticisms of the president’s remarks is far from prudent.
 
The more vocal the fights between South Korea and Russia get, the more brazen North Korea may become, heightening the risk of provocations.
 
One can see all too easily that all the hubbub that arose during the Russian deputy foreign minister’s visit to South Korea, a visit that should have steered South Korea-Russia relations into friendlier waters, would have made Kim Jong-un grin. 

By Park Min-hee, editorial writer

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