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Old 03-21-2020, 08:23 AM
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Arrow How North Korea or Russia could take advantage of coronavirus pandemic

How North Korea or Russia could take advantage of coronavirus pandemic
By: John Dale Grover - Washington Examiner - 03-19-20
Re: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/o...virus-pandemic

Sometimes, countries don’t want to draw attention to their actions — especially if their moves are threatening or would trigger a response by the United States. Two countries that are especially clever at manipulating international events in their favor are North Korea and Russia. America’s government and media only have so much bandwidth, and they are overwhelmingly focused on the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus. Meanwhile, Pyongyang quietly continues to violate sanctions and improve its nuclear program, and Moscow’s forgotten six-year war in eastern Ukraine grinds on. What’s to say that this COVID-19 crisis doesn’t present an even larger opportunity for either country to engage in further mischief?

Remember that North Korea successfully used surprise cooperation with South Korea during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang to put a pause on America’s maximum pressure campaign. Moreover, that outreach paved the way for several hyped summits with Washington and Seoul, helping North Korea to present a more modern, friendlier international image. Don’t forget Russia shocked the world by invading Georgia while everyone was focused on the Great Recession and the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Similarly, in 2014, Moscow pulled off a stunning invasion of Ukraine that also caught the world off guard.

In retrospect, none of these incidents are that surprising. North Korea has a history of alternating threats with diplomacy to try and get sanctions relief. Besides, even America’s own interests mean that communication is better than spiraling into war with another nuclear-armed state. As for Russia, Moscow had long been clear that it would take drastic actions to stop its neighbors, which it sees as former territories, from joining major Western institutions such as the European Union or alliances such as NATO.

With COVID-19 dominating the headlines, North Korea will most likely focus on conducting some nuclear tests while few people are looking. Solidifying its already pretty-good nuclear deterrent means it will be in an even stronger bargaining position later. As for Moscow, negotiations are currently underway to find some sort of settlement in Ukraine, and a new dispute with Belarus is threatening to get out of hand. Russia could use the pandemic as a distraction while it puts further pressure on Ukraine or maybe even pulls another Crimea by invading all or part of Belarus.

Why would these countries do this? If America is distracted and its resources concentrated elsewhere, now would be the time for Washington’s rivals to act. People are worried about the coronavirus, and the U.S. military may get involved in helping provide medical services. Additionally, it looks bad during a domestic crisis for the U.S. president to fly overseas for emergency meetings or to appear focused elsewhere. Moreover, large U.S. military drills in Asia or Europe have been or could be canceled given the concerns about spreading COVID-19.

Finally, Washington’s allies are distracted too. Japan and South Korea are focused on their internal emergency measures and are engaged in another angry round of tensions with each other. Meanwhile, the European Union is closing its borders and is in disarray over how to hold itself together. On top of all of this, the specter of a global recession looms.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has no intention of giving up his nuclear weapons. He might eventually budge on certain facilities or arms control measures, but that is it. Kim understands that weapons of mass destruction that can reach American cities are the only way he can ensure his personal survival. Nuclear weapons are the hellish threat that prevents Washington from crushing his regime as was done to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein or Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. However, Pyongyang’s intercontinental ballistic missiles are not perfected. Without a properly tested heat shield, they might fall apart and not survive reentry into the atmosphere.

Sure, enough ICBMs would make it through to devastate a few U.S. cities, but what if Kim doesn’t want to take the chance? Why not launch some ICBMs now and just claim they are “satellite” tests? After all, Kim already tested five short-range ballistic missiles (two on March 2 and three on March 8), and almost no one noticed.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin also has concerns for his future. As he ages and nears his constitutional term limits, he is considering how to stay in power and continue to ensure Russia is taken seriously as a great power. There are several paths before him. The most blatant would be to simply revise the constitution to suspend term limits and let him stay in power until 2036. Alternatively, he could stay in charge by being made the head of a brand-new “Union State” that would merge Belarus and Russia. There has been long-standing talk of such a political union, and both countries are already part of the Moscow-dominated Eurasian Economic Union. However, after being bullied over oil prices and seeing what has happened to Ukraine, Belarus is no longer playing ball. Therefore, if Putin wants to pull off a Union State, he would have to use force.

Why not now? Just search the news yourself — almost no one has realized this potential conflict is brewing.

These two dangerous possibilities are why Washington cannot afford to ignore the world’s hot spots. Obviously, America must prioritize defeating COVID-19, is rightly taking firm action at this moment, and can do even more. The U.S. also cannot foresee or stop every rival power, every single time, from doing things Washington does not like or that violate international law. But it would be an error to assume this pandemic will prevent other states from acting aggressively to secure their interests. It is also a mistake to be caught off guard just because Washington wasn’t paying attention.

Governments like to use crises to their advantage — and COVID-19 is no different. America should keep an eye on Pyongyang and Moscow as this pandemic unfolds.

About this writer: ohn Dale Grover is an assistant managing editor at The National Interest and a Korean studies fellow at the Center for the National Interest.

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Personal note: Distraction is an advantage for those who wish to see the US in jeopardy. These two countries will do their utmost to see the US being undermined. Even though they have their own medical issues to deal with this is an advantage for them to do things that will undermine our best interest. These rascals are always looking for an edge and this coronovirus is giving them the distraction they need to infiltrate their objectives.

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