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The crisis on the Korean peninsula - is everything to blame Putin?

Japanese media accuse Russia of involvement in the missile potential of the DPRK

The crisis on the Korean peninsula - is everything to blame Putin?
Photo: kfausa.org

Valery Kistanov

Head of the Center for Japanese Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies
At the Eastern Economic Forum that just ended in Vladivostok, along with pressing issues of the socio-economic development of the Russian Far East and trade and economic cooperation in Northeast Asia, the aggravation of the situation on the Korean Peninsula and ways of defusing international tension were actively, if not violently, discussed caused by nuclear missile tests conducted by the DPRK. This topic, for obvious reasons, was one of the main at the meetings of Russian President Vladimir Putin with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

At the forum, the Japanese Prime Minister once again voiced the Japanese vision of solving the problem of North Korea's nuclear missile potential. It fully coincides with the position of the United States and consists in the relentless buildup of military and economic pressure on Pyongyang in order to force it to abandon this potential. Shinzo Abe, in particular, said that the DPRK is becoming an unprecedented threat, therefore maximum pressure must be exerted on it, the country must be forced to immediately and fully comply with the UN Security Council resolutions. For its part, Japan uses all the levers of economic pressure at its stubborn neighbor, and also participates in acts of military intimidation by the United States, together with South Korea, in the waters and skies of the Korean Peninsula by the ships and aircraft of its Self-Defense Forces.

At the same time, the cause of the intractability of the Kim Jong Un regime in Tokyo, as well as in Washington and Seoul, is seen in the economic and political support that, in the opinion of the three capitals, Pyongyang is provided by Moscow and Beijing. That is why the Japanese media addressed Abe before his trip to Vladivostok with the wish to demand that Putin stop North Korea’s assistance in the field of both economics and politics.

And some Japanese newspapers directly accused Russia of involvement in the creation of its missile potential by the DPRK. For example, the authoritative mouthpiece of the Japanese business community, the Nikkei newspaper published an article in its September 2 issue entitled "Putin's shadow looms behind North Korea's missile program." The newspaper, in particular, writes: "The recent theory that the intercontinental ballistic missiles that North Korea launched in July were created using Soviet engines raised questions about the potential involvement of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the development of Pyongyang's weapons."

The theory was put forward in an August talk by Michael Elleman, Senior Research Fellow at the England-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. In it, Elleman argued that North Korea had acquired an improved version of a Soviet liquid-fueled engine produced by Yuzhmash, a state-owned enterprise located in the Ukrainian city of Dnepr (formerly Dnepropetrovsk - V.K.).

Thus, North Korea, which regularly failed even medium-range ballistic missile launches, has drastically improved its missile technology capabilities in recent years.

Military technologies developed in the Soviet era, found their way to China, and other developing countries after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Many Russian and Ukrainian experts agree that North Korea uses Soviet technologies in its military programs.

The question is when and how Pyongyang obtained Soviet rocket engines. Elleman, according to the Japanese edition, suspects that the engines were delivered to North Korea via Russia by train about two years ago. Ukraine's relations with Russia have deteriorated sharply since pro-Western forces took over in 2014. After the termination of ties with Russia, Yuzhmash faced serious financial problems and often delayed the payment of wages to its workers - a condition sufficient for technology leaks.

But many believe, writes Nikkei, that Pyongyang gained access to classified information even before that. In 2011, two North Korean nationals working at the Trade Mission in Belarus were arrested in Ukraine for allegedly attempting to steal missile technology. Liquid engines are extremely complex and will take more than 10 years to get them going even after receiving the full drawings, said Alexander Degtyarev, Yuzhmash's chief designer since Soviet times.

Missile technologies most likely made their way to North Korea through the black market channels. Both Russia and Ukraine have serious problems with corruption, and are the targets of criminal organizations wishing to obtain and sell secret information.

The article says that the government of Ukraine quickly published a statement refuting the report of Elleman. Taking advantage of the US patronage, the authors of the article argue, the country has a weak motivation to support North Korea.

At the same time, some experts suspect that Russia deliberately allowed North Korea to gain access to know-how relating to intercontinental ballistic missiles. Russia has advanced rocket technology, including the production of rocket fuel and other necessary components. It is also on the side of North Korea against the United States.

According to the Japanese business newspaper, about North Korea, Putin said in June (quoted in a reverse translation from English - V.К.): “Small states have no other way to preserve their independence, security and sovereignty, except by acquiring nuclear weapons ". The authors of the article also draw attention to the fact that in May Russia launched a ferry service with North Korea.

As the Japanese diplomatic sources told the newspaper, overloading the United States with the North Korean problem, Putin distracts America's attention from the Middle East and expands Russia's influence in this region.

The newspaper believes that, regardless of Putin's intentions, lingering tensions between the United States and Russia have begun to have a direct impact on North Korea's missile development. Nikkei cites the opinion of the Russian military expert Yuri Fedorov, according to which it is highly likely that the missile launched by Pyongyang through Japan on August 29 was used Soviet technology provided by Russia.

On the eve of the Eastern Economic Forum, the Japanese right-wing conservative newspaper Sankei Shimbun insistently recommended that Abe demand that Putin stop Russia's economic ties with the DPRK. In the issue that came out on the opening day of the Forum, the edition published an editorial under the heading "At the meeting of heads of state, to stop oil exports to North Korea." Ono writes: “Prime Minister Abe will visit Vladivostok, where he will hold talks with President Putin. Most likely, the Japanese leader is proud to have had a trusting relationship with Putin for many years. If so, then he gets a great chance to directly demand that Russia join tough sanctions against the DPRK, including an embargo on oil exports. "

"Sankei Shimbun" notes that Russia and China are criticizing North Korea, which continues to conduct nuclear tests and launch ballistic missiles, and talk about the importance of nuclear disarmament of the Korean peninsula. Nevertheless, the newspaper is sure, their actual actions look like Pyongyang's support.

According to the authors of the article, Russia is to blame for the fact that it receives a large number of labor from the DPRK. This is especially true for the Far East region. That is, Moscow is helping Pyongyang earn valuable foreign currency for it. Along with China, Russia is also a supplier of oil and petroleum products.

The publication reports that after Pyongyang conducted another nuclear test, Premier Abe in the evening of September 3 called President Putin, who was on a visit to China. In the course of this conversation, he demanded that Russia play a constructive role in the UN Security Council, which is discussing the strengthening of sanctions.

The mouthpiece of Japanese nationalist circles insists that Russia should fire North Korean workers, whose number reaches several tens of thousands, closed the ferry service between Vladivostok and the DPRK, and cut off an allegedly existing channel of leakage of military technologies.

As if replying in absentia to his critics in Japan, Putin said at a plenary meeting of the Vladivostok forum that the situation on the Korean Peninsula is not allowed to be sanctioned and intimidated, while the DPRK is considering statements on the conditions for refusing restrictive measures against the country as a step leading up to an invitation to the cemetery.

The President of Russia, in connection with the new tests conducted by the CDNR, called on the countries to conduct a dialogue with North Korea and to refrain from forcing "military hysteria". "This is a dead end road absolutely," the Russian head of state stressed.

Putin urged not to drive Pyongyang into a corner. It seems, however, that Washington and Tokyo are seeking this.
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