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Russia Raises Stakes Over Ukraine      06/24 06:28

   Behind the smiles, the balloons and the red-carpet pageantry of President 
Vladimir Putin's visit to North Korea last week, a strong signal came through: 
In the spiraling confrontation with the U.S. and its allies over Ukraine, the 
Russian leader is willing to challenge Western interests like never before.

   (AP) -- Behind the smiles, the balloons and the red-carpet pageantry of 
President Vladimir Putin's visit to North Korea last week, a strong signal came 
through: In the spiraling confrontation with the U.S. and its allies over 
Ukraine, the Russian leader is willing to challenge Western interests like 
never before.

   The pact that he signed with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un envisions 
mutual military assistance between Moscow and Pyongyang if either is attacked. 
Putin also announced for the first time that Russia could provide weapons to 
the isolated country, a move that could destabilize the Korean Peninsula and 
reverberate far beyond.

   He described the potential arms shipments as a response to NATO allies 
providing Ukraine with longer-range weapons to attack Russia. He bluntly 
declared that Moscow has nothing to lose and is prepared to go "to the end" to 
achieve its goals in Ukraine.

   Putin's moves added to concerns in Washington and Seoul about what they see 
as an alliance in which North Korea provides Moscow with badly needed munitions 
for its war in Ukraine in exchange for economic assistance and technology 
transfers that would enhance the threat posed by Kim's nuclear weapons and 
missile program.

   A landmark pact

   The new agreement with Pyongyang marked the strongest link between Moscow 
and Pyongyang since the end of the Cold War.

   Kim said it raised bilateral relations to the level of an alliance, while 
Putin was more cautious, noting the pledge of mutual military assistance 
mirrored a 1961 treaty between the Soviet Union and North Korea. That agreement 
was discarded after the Soviet collapse and replaced with a weaker one in 2000 
when Putin first visited Pyongyang.

   Stephen Sestanovich, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations noted 
that when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev signed the deal with Pyongyang in 
1961, he also tested the world's biggest nuclear bomb, built the Berlin Wall 
and probably started thinking about moves that led to the Cuban missile crisis 
in 1962.

   "The question for Western policymakers now is whether Putin is becoming 
comparably reckless," Sestanovich said in a commentary. "His language in North 
Korea -- where he denounced the United States as a 'worldwide neocolonialist 
dictatorship' -- might make you think so."

   South Korea responded by declaring it would consider sending arms to Ukraine 
in a major policy change for Seoul, which so far only has sent humanitarian 
assistance to Kyiv under a longstanding policy of not supplying weapons to 
countries engaged in conflict.

   Putin insisted Seoul has nothing to worry about, since the new pact only 
envisions military assistance in case of aggression and should act as a 
deterrent to prevent a conflict. He strongly warned South Korea against 
providing lethal weapons to Ukraine, saying it would be a "very big mistake."

   "If that happens, then we will also make corresponding decisions that will 
hardly please the current leadership of South Korea," he said.

   Asked whether North Korean troops could fight alongside Russian forces in 
Ukraine under the pact, Putin said there was no need for that.

   Potential weapons for Pyongyang

   Last month, Putin warned that Russia could provide long-range weapons to 
others to hit Western targets in response to NATO allies allowing Ukraine to 
use its allies' arms to make limited attacks inside Russian territory.

   He followed up on that warning Thursday with an explicit threat to provide 
weapons to North Korea.

   "I wouldn't exclude that in view of our agreements with the Democratic 
People's Republic of Korea," Putin said, adding that Moscow could mirror the 
arguments by NATO allies that it's up to Ukraine to decide how to use Western 
weapons.

   "We can similarly say that we supply something to somebody but have no 
control over what happens afterward," Putin said. "Let them think about it."

   Sue Mi Terry, senior fellow for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign 
Relations, warned that Moscow could share weapons technologies with Pyongyang 
to help improve its ballistic missile capabilities, noting there is evidence of 
this happening already, with Russia possibly providing help to North Korea with 
its successful satellite launch in November, two months after Kim last met 
Putin.

   "This is deeply concerning because of the substantial overlap between the 
technologies used for space launches and intercontinental ballistic missiles," 
Terry said in a commentary. "Russia can also provide North Korea with critical 
help in areas where its capabilities are still nascent, such as 
submarine-launched ballistic missiles."

   While raising the prospect of arms supplies to Pyongyang that would violate 
U.N. sanctions, Putin also said Russia would take efforts at the world body to 
ease the restrictions -- an apparent signal that Moscow may try to keep arms 
supplies to Pyongyang under the radar and maintain a degree of deniability to 
avoid accusations of breaching the sanctions.

   Russia and North Korea have rejected assertions by the U.S. and its allies 
that Pyongyang has given Moscow ballistic missiles and millions of artillery 
shells for use in Ukraine.

   Going 'to the end' in a confrontation with the West

   By explicitly linking prospective arms shipments to Pyongyang to Western 
moves on Ukraine, Putin warned Kyiv's allies to back off as he pushes his goals 
in the war -- or face a new round of confrontation.

   "They are escalating the situation, apparently expecting that we will get 
scared at some point, and at the same time, they say that they want to inflict 
a strategic defeat on Russia on the battlefield," Putin said. "For Russia, it 
will mean an end to its statehood, an end to the millennium-long history of the 
Russian state. And a question arises: Why should we be afraid? Isn't it better, 
then, to go to the end?"

   Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center in Berlin, 
said Putin's statement reflected an attempt to discourage the U.S. and its 
allies from ramping up support for Kyiv as Russia pushes new offensives in 
several sectors of the front line.

   "The situation is becoming increasingly dangerous, and Russia believes that 
it should quickly rap the West over its knuckles to show that its deeper 
engagement in the war will have a price," he said in remarks carried by Dozhd, 
an independent Russian broadcaster.

   He noted that Putin's statement that Moscow wouldn't know where its arms end 
up if sent to Pyongyang could have been a hint at North Korea's role as an arms 
exporter.

   Treading cautiously with China

   Putin's visits to North Korea handed a new challenge to Pyongyang's top 
ally, China, potentially allowing Kim to hedge his bets and reduce his 
excessive reliance on Beijing.

   China so far has avoided comment on the new pact, but many experts argue 
that Beijing won't like losing sway over its neighbor.

   Ever since Putin invaded Ukraine, Russia has come to increasingly depend on 
China as the main market for its energy exports and the source of high-tech 
technologies in the face of Western sanctions. While forging a revamped 
relationship with Pyongyang, the Kremlin will likely tread cautiously to avoid 
angering Beijing.

   "Whether this upgraded Russia--North Korea relationship will be without 
limits depends upon China," which will watch events closely, said Edward Howell 
of Chatham House in a commentary. "Beijing will have taken stern note of Kim 
Jong Un's claim that Russia is North Korea's 'most honest friend.' Despite the 
likely increase in cooperation in advanced military technology between Moscow 
and Pyongyang, China remains North Korea's largest economic partner."

 
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