North Korea and Russia may take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic

WASHINGTON, (BM) – Sometimes countries do not want to draw attention to their actions, especially if the steps they take are connected with the threat of a response from the United States or may give rise to it.

There are two countries that are particularly clever at manipulating international events and turning them to their advantage – these are North Korea and Russia. Only the US government and the American media have similar coverage, but they are entirely focused on the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the new coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang secretly continues to violate sanctions and improves its nuclear program, and the forgotten and ongoing six-year war of Russia in Ukraine has no end in sight. Is there any doubt that the current crisis caused by the spread of COVID-19 provides an even greater opportunity for each of these countries to expand their malicious activities?

It should be recalled that North Korea successfully used the unexpected cooperation with South Korea during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in order to temporarily stop maximum pressure from the United States. Moreover, these contacts paved the way for the summits with Washington and Seoul, the importance of which was excessively exaggerated, and this helped North Korea to present a more modern, more friendly international image of its country.

We should not forget that Russia shocked the whole world with its invasion of Georgia at a time when people’s attention was riveted on the Great Recession, as well as on the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. In 2014, Moscow took similar actions and committed astounding aggression against Ukraine, which also took the whole world by surprise.

If you evaluate these events retroactively, then they no longer seem so unexpected. North Korea has long used alternately threats and diplomacy, trying in this way to achieve easier sanctions. In addition, even America’s own interests suggest that communication is better than moving in a spinning spiral toward war with a nuclear-weapon state.

As for Russia, it has long been clear that it is ready to take the toughest actions to deprive the neighboring states, which it considers their own territory, of joining such important Western organizations as the European Union, or alliances such as NATO.

Today, with COVID-19 dominating the headlines, North Korea is likely to focus on nuclear testing, as few people are watching. Strengthening North Korea’s already quite significant arsenal of nuclear deterrence means that its negotiating position will become even stronger. As for Moscow, negotiations are underway, the purpose of which is to find a possible settlement in Ukraine, while a new conflict with Belarus threatens to get out of control.

Russia can use the pandemic to divert attention, and at this time it will continue to exert pressure on Ukraine or even dare to repeat the operation it carried out in Crimea and seize all of Belarus or part of it.

Why do these countries do this? If America’s attention is distracted, and its resources are concentrated somewhere else, then Washington’s rivals will have the opportunity to act. People are worried about the spread of coronavirus, and the US military may be involved in the provision of medical care.

In addition, during an internal crisis, the American president should not visit foreign countries for emergency meetings or give the impression that his attention is focused on something else. Moreover, large US military exercises have already been canceled or may be canceled in Asia and Europe due to the spread of COVID-19.

And finally, it should be said that the attention of Washington’s allies is also distracted. Japan and South Korea are focused on their own emergency measures, and are also involved in another round of tension and annoyance in relations with each other.

Meanwhile, the European Union is closing its borders, and there is no consensus among its members on how to stick together. In addition, the ghost of a global recession is looming on the horizon.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is not going to give up nuclear weapons. Ultimately, he may slightly change his position on some test centers or on the issue of arms control, but nothing more. Kim understands that weapons of mass destruction that can reach American cities are the only way to ensure his own survival.

Nuclear weapons are a hellish threat that prevents Washington from destroying this regime, as was done with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein or with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. At the same time, Pyongyang’s intercontinental ballistic missiles are imperfect. Without appropriate testing of the thermal protection elements, missiles can be destroyed when they return to the atmosphere.

Of course, a sufficient number of intercontinental ballistic missiles can reach its targets and destroy several American cities, but what if Kim does not want to risk it? Why not launch a few intercontinental ballistic missiles today and just say that these are “satellite” tests?

Ultimately, Kim has already carried out five tests of short-range ballistic missiles (two tests on March 2 and three on March 8), and almost no one noticed this.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin is also preoccupied with his future. He is aging, and, in addition, the limit established by the constitution for his tenure as president is approaching. Therefore, Putin is thinking about how to stay in power and continue the course so that Russia can be taken seriously as a great power. He has several options.

The most egregious way would be to simply amend the constitution, removing the restriction on the number of terms from it, which would allow him to remain in power until 2036. There is another option – it can retain power by becoming the main new “union state” within Belarus and Russia. Negotiations have been ongoing for a long time on this political union, and, in addition, both countries are already members of the Eurasian Economic Union, in which Moscow plays the leading role.

But after intimidation and disputes over the price of oil, and also taking into account the events in Ukraine, Belarus is not particularly inclined to this kind of cooperation. And if Putin wants to create a union state, he will have to use force to do this.

And why not do it now? See for yourself the news – almost no one sees that this potential conflict escalates.

There are two possible reasons why Washington cannot ignore the world’s hot spots. Obviously, America must prioritize the fight against COVID-19, and it is doing the right thing by taking tough actions at this point, and can do even more.

The United States cannot foresee the occurrence of conflicts; they cannot stop any rival power and prevent it from doing what Washington does not like or violates international law. But it would be a mistake to believe that the coronavirus pandemic would prevent other states from acting aggressively to safeguard their interests. It would also be a mistake to let you be taken by surprise simply because Washington did not pay attention to it.

Governments like to take advantage of crises, and the situation with COVID-19 is no different from other crises. America should closely monitor Pyongyang and Moscow amid the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.


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Editorial team / Inosmi / John Dale Grover

The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.