Putin demurs Moon’s request on N. Korea oil supply cut

by BLOOMBERG

VLADIVOSTOKRussian President Vladimir Putin (picture) expressed concern yesterday that halting oil supplies to North Korea would hurt its people, after his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in asked him to support fresh United Nations (UN) sanctions to isolate Pyongyang.

“Stopping oil supply to North Korea is inevitable,” Moon’s spokesman Yoon Young-chan quoted him as saying. “I’m asking for Russia’s cooperation.”

Putin explained at length to Moon that sanctions won’t work on North Korea and that halting its oil supply would damage hospitals, his foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said after the meeting, echoing the Russian leader’s earlier remarks that such action would be “useless and ineffective”. On Tuesday, Putin told reporters that Russia’s trade with North Korea is “almost zero,” and that its quarterly exports of 40,000 tonnes of oil to the country are “as good as nothing” relative to its global sales.

Even so, Ushakov said the talks had led to more “elements of commonality”.

The two leaders’ interaction raises questions over how far the UN Security Council will go in punishing Kim Jong Un’s regime after it conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sunday. Russia and China both hold vetoes and have opposed doing anything that could lead to the collapse of Kim’s regime.

US President Donald Trump, who has warned North Korea of “fire and fury” and vowed to escalate sanctions if it continues threatening America, planned to speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping at 9am yesterday in the US, the White House said in a statement. Trump has threatened to cut off trade with all countries that do business with North Korea, a group that includes China.

Stocks fell in most Asian markets yesterday, and almost every sector of the Stoxx Europe 600 Index retreated, as nations grapple with how to deal with North Korea’s escalating provocations. The yen was near its strongest level for the year.

In a conversation with Putin on Monday, Moon had said it was time for the UN to seriously consider blocking North Korea’s foreign currency sources by cutting off crude oil supplies and banning its overseas labour.

“If we fail to stop North Korea’s provocations now, it could sink into an uncontrollable situation,” Moon said in opening remarks before the meeting with Putin. “I want to seek a fundamental solution to resolve the North Korea nuclear problem here.”

Putin called for all sides to calm down.

“There’s no point in giving into emotions and backing North Korea into a corner,” Putin said. “More than ever now we need to show restraint and avoid any steps that could escalate tensions.”

“They’ll eat grass, but they won’t abandon their programme unless they feel secure,” Putin told reporters on Tuesday at an emerging markets summit in Xiamen, China, which was hosted by Xi.

North Korea has reportedly been preparing another launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could come before it marks the anniversary of its founding on Sept 9. Kim claimed on Sunday that he could fit a warhead onto an ICBM capable of striking the continental US.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also plans to visit Vladivostok for talks with Moon and Putin. He told reporters in Tokyo yesterday that he wants North Korea to understand it has “no bright future” if it continues on its current path. Putin’s foreign policy aide Ushakov expressed hope that progress could be made at the talks.

China has been considering closing a customs post along the border with North Korea, according to the Daily NK, a Seoul-based website that says it gathers information from informants inside the isolated nation. The Quanhe customs house in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, near the Russian border, is the second-biggest of nine posts between China and North Korea.

South Korea is watching closely for any radiation leaks after North Korea detonated its nuclear device, Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Taehyun said in a briefing yesterday. The nation’s nuclear safety commission said it hadn’t detected any so far.

Additional launchers for the US missile shield known as Thaad will be installed in South Korea today at noon, Yonhap News reported, citing activists at the site. Moon had previously sought to delay its deployment. — Bloomberg