Japan and South Korea, whom the US is trying to involve in provocations against North Korea, will become the first victims if conflict breaks out in the region, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has warned.
“While condemning Pyongyang’s nuclear missile adventurism, we cannot but condemn the provocative behavior of our American colleagues,” Lavrov said in an interview with Belarusian broadcaster STV. “Unfortunately, they are trying to drag the Japanese and South Koreans in the same direction, who… will be the first victims in the event of war on the Korean Peninsula.”
Earlier this week, North Korea carried out its first missile test in two months, firing an ICBM that allegedly can reach the US mainland. The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, reacted to the test by urging more sanctions against Pyongyang and threatening that “if war comes… the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed.”
Lavrov reiterated that in September, the US made it clear that the next military exercises with South Korea were not to come until spring. Russia appreciated that and made efforts to work with Pyongyang to turn the lull into more lasting stability.
“There was a hint that in this situation, that this natural pause in the US-South Korean exercises could have been used by Pyongyang to avoid disturbing peace, as well, and conditions could be created for starting a dialogue,” the foreign minister said. Instead, the US suddenly announced it would be holding the drills in October, then November, then December. That, according to Lavrov, was probably what provoked Pyongyang.
“There’s a feeling that [the US was] intentionally provoking [North Korea’s] Kim Jong-un to break that pause, to fall for their provocation,” he said.
Tensions have been on the rise on the Korean Peninsula in recent months as Pyongyang keeps pursuing its nuclear program and missile testing despite international sanctions and condemnation, while the US and its allies intensify drills near the North Korean borders. US President Donald Trump has repeatedly warned of a military scenario for North Korea, and recently included the country on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, paving the way for more sanctions.
Russia and China have proposed a roadmap for settling the Korean crisis through a transition to negotiations, which implies rejection of any actions that fuel tensions. The proposal called for North Korea to curb its nuclear and missile tests, in return for the US giving up on joint military drills with South Korea in the region, but it was rejected by Washington. A group of Russian MPs, who visited Pyongyang earlier this week, said that the North Korean side expressed readiness to engage in talks, but demanded that Moscow play a mediating role.