Russian deputy foreign minister Igor Morgulov said on Monday that "an apocalyptic scenario of developments" on the Korean Peninsula is possible, but Russia hopes that a common sense would prevail among the involved parties.
"A scenario of the apocalyptic development of the situation on the Korean Peninsula exists and we cannot turn our blind eye to it," Morgulov said speaking at the opening of the eighth annual Asian Conference of the Valdai discussion club in Seoul. "I hope that a common sense, pragmatism and an instinct of self-preservation would prevail among our partners to exclude such negative scenario," the Russian diplomat said, quoted by Russia's Tass.
Fire and brimstone aside, Morgulov noted that a phase of calm appeared to be returning as North Korea’s current pause in provocations - the longest since last winter - indicates a step toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. “I think North Korea’s restraint for the past two months is within the simultaneous freeze road map” suggested by China and Russia, Morgulov told reporters in Seoul on Monday according to Bloomberg. North Korea’s last provocation was on Sept. 15, when it fired its second missile over Japan in as many months. The 73-day pause is the longest since a 116-day break between October 2016 and February.
Russian and Chinese foreign ministers proposed in July a “double freezing” initiative, under which North Korea refrains from missile and nuclear tests, and the U.S. and South Korea halt large-scale military exercises, however the U.S. has rejected this proposal, arguing that its drills are defensive in nature. Earlier this month, it carried out its first exercise in a decade using three aircraft carriers in the region, and plans to conduct drills with South Korea’s air force in early December.
Morgulov, Russia’s deputy minister responsible for relations with East and South Asia, said that following a “freeze for freeze” the next step would be to hold exchanges with Pyongyang. Once North Korea agrees to a moratorium on testing and talks are taking place, the process can move to discussion of denuclearization, he said. “We will have to see a certain change of attitude of the U.S., especially on freezing or reducing” its military drills, Morgulov said. “It’ll be difficult for us to play the role of persuading North Korea” not to provoke anymore without a change in the U.S. position.
Despite the impasse, and underscoring Russia's argument, the diplomat said that "we have told North Korea many times that for us [its] nuclear status is unacceptable," adding that "we continue this work with the North Korean counterparts presenting to them our position."
Moscow negatively assess joint military drills of the United States with its allies in the region of the Korean Peninsula, while North Korea keeps a two-month pause in missile and nuclear tests, he went on.
"Considering the two-month long period of silence, the United States is not planning to reduce the scale of its regular military exercises, but also plan holding sudden drills as well," Morgulov said. "Unfortunately, this is the answer, which North Korea gets in response to its two-month silence," the Russian diplomat said adding that Moscow "assesses it negatively." "I believe that both the North Korean nuclear tests and joint military drills of the United States with its allies are definitely of a negative nature," Morgulov said.
"Russia has presented the roadmap’s contents both to the U.S. and to the DPRK," the diplomat said. "I would like to say that "at the very entrance" the plan has not been rejected either by Washington or by Pyongyang, though still no answer."
"Besides, we have spoken for discussing certain elements of this plan separately with the U.S. and with North Korea," he continued. "We have begun the work, but I have to say regretfully that the actions, which Washington undertook in October-November, I mean the unplanned drills, affect greatly our dialogue on settlement on the basis of the roadmap."
"Is it possible for someone to cherish illusions that threats from US President Donald Trump to strike with ‘fire and fury’ will be able to cut the knot, which has been tight on the Korean Peninsula for many decades?" Morgulov said. "I believe it would be naive to hope that any of the sides would give in to the pressure," the Russian diplomat said.
"We must understand that the pressure borders with the deliberate push of North Korea to the humanitarian catastrophe," Morgulov said. "This will not result in the North Korean authorities giving up missile and nuclear programs, but on the contrary, will only strengthen its intentions to stay until the very end."
"I believe that the path of pressure has no perspectives and there is no other alternative to the dialogue," the Russian diplomat said.
"The resumption of inter-Korean dialogue could have a positive effect (on the conflict settlement)," Morgulov said. "These two countries have issues to discuss and I know that our South Korean partners are ready for such dialogue and repeatedly expressed interest in its initiation," the Russian diplomat said.
"If Pyeongyang’s demonstrated restraint over the past two months was met with similar reciprocal steps on behalf of the United States and its allies then we could have moved to the start of direct talks between the United States and North Korea," Morgulov said.
"Will it be possible? I am absolutely sure that it is possible," the Russian diplomat said. "The key agenda of such talks can be very simple, which is the principles of peaceful coexistence. I believe that the lack of such concord gives roots to hostility and mutual mistrust among the involved parties."
"The United States and its allies should at least reduce the scale of their regular military exercises they are holding in the region of the Korean Peninsula," Morgulov said.