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How Russia Sees A Nuclear North Korea


As President Trump spends his day at the United Nations General Assembly, one topic that promises to dominate conversations is what to do about North Korea. Last week the U.N. Security Council added more sanctions against the country, though sanctions weren't as strong as the U.S. had hoped, in part because they needed to be watered-down to win support from China and Russia. Recently our co-host, Rachel Martin, spoke with Andrei Lankov via Skype. He's a Russian expert on Korea, and he lives in Seoul. She began by asking him how Russia sees the nuclear threat from North Korea.

ANDREI LANKOV: Essentially the Russian attitude is quite similar as the attitude of China on one hand. Russia is not happy about North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Let's not forget Russia is one of the five officially-recognized nuclear countries. It enjoys tremendous military and strategic advantages. As such, Russia has no interest in nuclear proliferation.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: But there's a trade relationship between Russia and the North, right?

LANKOV: Yes, but not much. Most of North Korea's trade these days is its trade with China. However, now that trade with Russia began to attract attention because there are good reasons to believe that Russian companies are selling significant amount of oil to North Korea.

MARTIN: Is this in violation of the sanctions?

LANKOV: So far not yet, but we'll see how it will work out in the next few months.

MARTIN: So the idea of a nuclear-powered North Korea is less frightening to Russia than an economically-unstable North Korea?

LANKOV: I would say politically-unstable North Korea. Russia doesn't care much about economic stability, but Russia faces a choice between a nuclear North Korea and North Korea which will become unstable which start crumbling and collapsing as a result of economic pressure. Americans will enjoy the show from far, far away, being safely protected by the Pacific. For Russia and China, such economic crises can easily trigger anarchy, a Syria or Libya-style situation, civil-war violence, in a country located just on the Russian and Chinese borders.

MARTIN: So you think the world is just going to have to accept a North Korea that's going to continue to pursue a nuclear weapons program?

LANKOV: Yes, but it has to be done implicitly because if it's done explicitly it will be a massive blow to the nonproliferation regime. Sooner or later, there's going to be copycats. So lip service will have to be paid to the idea of North Korea's de-nuclearization, but let's face it - in the foreseeable future, as long as Kim Jong-un and his elite stay in control, the de-nuclearization is not going to be possible.

MARTIN: What guidance would you give to President Trump on this issue, in this moment?

LANKOV: Avoid heated rhetoric because in recent few months, rhetoric emanating from Washington is pretty much indistinguishable from what, for many years, we have heard from Pyongyang. If threats are repeated and repeated and repeated, they're losing their value.

MARTIN: Professor Andrei Lankov. He teaches at Kookmin University in Seoul. Thank you so much for talking with us.

LANKOV: Yeah. Thank you very much. Bye.

KELLY: That was our co-host, Rachel Martin, talking with Professor Lankov. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.