Russia President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that a military strike against North Korea designed to destroy its nuclear and missile program might not succeed because Pyongyang could have hidden military facilities that nobody knows about.
Putin, speaking at an energy forum in Moscow, made it clear he had serious doubts about the military efficacy of such a move, as well as other political and moral concerns.
“Can a global strike against North Korea be launched to disarm it? Yes. Will it achieve its aim? We don’t know. Who knows what they have there and where. Nobody knows with 100 percent certainty as it’s a closed country.”
Putin said Russia had more reason than most to be concerned by Pyongyang’s missile program, saying that North Korea’s nuclear testing range was located just 200 kilometers (124.27 miles) from the Russian border.
The Russian leader also reiterated his call for diplomacy to be allowed to run its course and for all sides to dial down the bellicose rhetoric. He also said he thought Trump was listening to Russia’s views on the crisis.
More sanctions were the road to nowhere, Putin told the same forum, saying around 40,000 North Korean citizens were currently working in Russia.
Such workers are known to regularly send back part of their wages to the North Korean authorities.
A Fraught Double Game
Russia is already angry about a build-up of U.S.-led NATO forces on its western borders in Europe and does not want any replication on its Asian flank.
Yet while Russia has an interest in protecting North Korea, which started life as a Soviet satellite state, it is not giving Pyongyang a free pass: it backed tougher United Nations sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear tests last month.
But Moscow is also playing a fraught double game, by quietly offering North Korea a slender lifeline to help insulate it from U.S.-led efforts to isolate it economically.
A Russian company began routing North Korean internet traffic this month, giving Pyongyang a second connection with the outside world besides China. Bilateral trade more than doubled to $31.4 million in the first quarter of 2017, due mainly to what Moscow said was higher oil product exports.
At least eight North Korean ships that left Russia with fuel cargoes this year have returned home despite officially declaring other destinations, a ploy U.S. officials say is often used to undermine sanctions against Pyongyang.
So despite Russia giving lukewarm backing to tighter sanctions on Pyongyang, Putin wants to help its economy grow and is advocating bringing it into joint projects with other countries in the region.
“We need to gradually integrate North Korea into regional cooperation,” Putin told the Vladivostok summit last month.