Only a few days ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the US and North Korea were “on the verge of a large-scale conflict,” seeming to imply that a war – possibly more than just conventional – was inevitable, as North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un would never shutter the country’s nuclear program, according to Russia Today.
Today, in what appears to be a reversal, Putin – speaking at an economic forum in Vladivostok on Thursday - cautioned that there would be no conflict involving nuclear weapons in northeast Asia.
“'We hope it will not come to a conflict with the use of weapons of mass destruction in North-East Asia’, Russian president Vladimir Putin stated at the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok.”
He added that diplomatic solutions remain – possibly alluding to a plan developed by China and Russia where the North would halt its nuclear program while the US and South Korea would end their military exercises, which Kim believes are dress rehearsals for an invasion.
“There are possibilities to achieve the settlement of Pyongyang’s problem by diplomatic means. This is possible and must be done,” he stated.
We need to work together. We can and must achieve positive results," Putin said, speaking at the Eastern Economic Forum on Thursday.
You can hear Putin’s remarks in their entirety by watching the video below.
He recalled that back in 2005 – before the North had conducted even its first nuclear test - the two sides came close to resolving their differences.
"We almost agreed on everything in 2005. Agreements were reached, according to which North Korea assumed the obligation to curtail the nuclear missile program, and all the other participants in this process promised to contribute to this process, and spoke of the need to restore normal, good relations between the North and the South, on the possibility of implementing tripartite Russia-North-South projects," Putin said.
"But then, unfortunately in my opinion, someone demanded from North Korea what it did not promise, and gradually this situation deteriorated to the current level," Putin said.
However, Putin repeated his insistence that Pyongyang sees nuclear weapons as its only path toward long-term safety, and wouldn’t surrender them under any circumstances.
"They [in North Korea] view the possession of atomic weapons and missile technology as their only means of protection. Do you think they’ll give it up now?”
He added that the “hysteria” that has developed after nearly eight months of simmering tensions, traded provocations and one test of a purported H bomb has become “counterproductive.”
"The build-up of some military atmosphere, of hysteria, is counterproductive, in my opinion. It will lead to nothing, because what is happening now, of course, is a provocation from North Korea. This is quite obvious. They are provoking the situation, but if they are doing it, they are not stupid people, believe me. So, they expect the corresponding reaction from [their] partners, and they achieve it," Putin said.
In summary, Putin has tweaked his view slightly. Kim’s primary motive in launching the missiles and conducting the nuclear tests is to provoke a reaction, and that threats of an attack shouldn’t be taken seriously. Kim merely desires the international respect he feels he deserves. A diplomatic that allows Kim to save face while guaranteeing international security should be possible.
Of course, the notion that the US would willingly relent on its economic sanctions – not to mention the security council’s – while it’s exploring more ways to economically punish the north, seems unrealistic.