Putin’s potential contribution to ending the U.S.-North Korea standoff

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017
At the APEC meeting in Da Nang, Vietnam this weekend, Presidents Putin and Trump could build a foundation for a deal on ending the North Korea standoff (source: dpa)

United States President Donald Trump is on a tour of Asia. Besides trade (especially his country’s imbalance with China) and reassuring U.S. allies, the North Korea crisis will be at the top of his agenda.

On November 11 and 12, President Trump will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Da Nang, Vietnam. There, he will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The administration has been hamstrung in negotiations with Russia due to allegations that members of the Trump campaign collaborated with Russians to influence last year’s election. The constant mudslinging on this issue in the U.S. – from all sides – is extremely counterproductive to developing a political strategy in Washington’s relationship with Moscow.

Nevertheless, President Trump has already announced that he will seek Russia’s assistance in solving the conflict with North Korea. As with the issue of chemical weapons in Syria, President Putin could also offer his services in this matter. Russia has a lot of influence in North Korea, and can exercise both military and economic pressure.

It is conceivable that Washington is prepared to pay a price for ending the conflict with Mr. Kim

Defusing the conflict is in Russia’s vital interest. A war between the U.S. and North Korea can only end with the defeat of Kim Jong-un’s regime, even if it would mean South Korea and Japan risk paying a horrible toll. For the U.S., it would be very costly and could also mean concessions to China, but in the end, without the Kim dynasty, it would come to a reunification of the Korean peninsula.

A reunified Korea would very likely be a close ally of the U.S., and Washington’s influence in the region would rise. We must not forget that Russia’s main Pacific port is less than 100 miles from the North Korean border, in Vladivostok. A U.S.-North Korea war is therefore not in Moscow’s interest.

The conflict with North Korea is, however, a serious problem for the U.S. and it is conceivable that Washington is prepared to pay a price for freezing or “peacefully” ending the conflict with Mr. Kim.

The price for President Putin’s intervention and Russian pressure on North Korea would likely be concessions on sanctions against Russia, as well as tacit acceptance of its annexation of Crimea and its de facto occupation of the Donbas region in Ukraine.

The discussion between the two presidents is unlikely to bring about such a solution immediately. But eventually, such a scenario is very plausible indeed.

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