North Korea tensions: Russia's Lavrov fears 'spiral'

North Korean Kim Jong-un meets military officials (Unverified picture released by KCNA news agency 29 March) Kim Jong-un signed an order putting rockets on stand-by after meeting generals

The North Korean situation could spiral out of control, Russia has warned, after another day of inflamed rhetoric from Pyongyang.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned of a "vicious circle" and told all sides to avoid unilateral action.

On Thursday, the North threatened to "settle accounts" and said it had put missiles on stand-by to hit the US.

The US, which flew stealth bombers over South Korea this month, condemned the North's "bellicose rhetoric".

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the rhetoric only deepened North Korea's isolation.

North Korean state media reported leader Kim Jong-un "judged the time has come to settle accounts with the US imperialists".


Bluff has long played a fundamental role in North Korean strategy. The regime in Pyongyang needs its much more powerful neighbours and antagonists to take its threats seriously. By threatening potential chaos and war in the heart of the world's most dynamic economic region, it has in the past been able to transcend its own weakness and extract diplomatic concessions.

But the United States may be about to call North Korea's bluff. The US treasury department is taking steps to squeeze North Korea financially, and the Pentagon has flown B-52 and B-2 bombers over the Korean peninsula - moves that are guaranteed to provoke a hostile reaction.

Washington's tough stance presents Kim Jong-un with a dilemma. He wants to show his generals and the North Korean people that he can force concessions from the United States - in the same style as his father and grandfather. He could now be tempted to take brinkmanship to a new level, to try to convince the US and the region that confrontation does not work and carries too many risks.

He was said to have condemned US B-2 bomber sorties over South Korea as a "reckless phase" that represented an "ultimatum that they will ignite a nuclear war at any cost on the Korean Peninsula".

US mainland and bases in Hawaii, Guam and South Korea were all named as potential targets.

North Korea's most advanced missiles are thought to be able to reach Alaska, but not the rest of the US mainland.

'Increasing military activity'

State media in the North showed thousands of soldiers and students at a mass rally in Pyongyang supporting of Kim Jong-un's announcement.

China, North Korea's biggest trading partner, immediately reiterated its call for all sides to ease tensions.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news conference that "joint efforts" should be made to turn around a "tense situation".

He made similar remarks on Tuesday.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov went further, voicing concern that "we may simply let the situation slip out of our control and it will slide into a spiral of a vicious circle".

"We are concerned that... unilateral action is being taken around North Korea that is increasing military activity," he said.

Timeline: Korean tensions

  • 12 Dec: North Korea fires three-stage rocket, in move condemned by UN as banned test of long-range missile technology
  • 12 Feb: North Korea conducts an underground nuclear test, its third after tests in 2006 and 2009
  • 7 Mar: UN approves fresh sanctions on Pyongyang; North Korea says it has the right to a "pre-emptive nuclear strike" on the US
  • 11 Mar: US-South Korea annual joint military drills begin; North Korea says it has scrapped the Korean War armistice (the UN says the pact cannot be unilaterally scrapped)
  • 19 Mar: US flies B-52 nuclear-capable bombers over Korean peninsula, following several North Korean threats to attack US and South Korean targets
  • 20 Mar: Broadcasters and banks in South Korea hit by cyber attack, the origin of which remains unknown, days after North Korea says some of its sites were hacked
  • 27 Mar: North Korea cuts military hotline with South, the last official direct link between the two
  • 28 Mar: US flies stealth bombers over Korean peninsula; showcasing ability for precision strike "at will"

In an earlier statement, the US military said that the B-2 stealth bombers demonstrated America's ability to "provide extended deterrence" to its allies and conduct "long-range, precision strikes quickly and at will".

"The North Koreans have to understand that what they're doing is very dangerous," US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters on Thursday.

"We must make clear that these provocations by the North are taken by us very seriously and we'll respond to that."

The US had already flown nuclear-capable B-52 bombers over South Korea earlier this month, in what it called a response to escalating North Korean threats.

Tensions in the Korean peninsula have been high since North Korea's third nuclear test on 12 February, which led to the imposition of fresh sanctions.

North Korea has made multiple threats against both the US and South Korea in recent weeks, including warning of a "pre-emptive nuclear strike" on the US and the scrapping of the Korean War armistice.

While North Korea has issued many threats against the US and South Korea in the past, this level of sustained rhetoric is rare, observers say.

On 16 March, North Korea warned of attacks against South Korea's border islands, and advised residents to leave the islands.

Start Quote

When you look at occasions where something really did happen, such as the artillery attack on a South Korean island in 2010, you see there were very clear warnings”

End Quote Professor John Delury, Yonsei university

In 2010 it shelled South Korea's Yeonpyeong island, causing four deaths.

On Wednesday, Pyongyang also cut a military hotline with the South - the last direct official link between the two nations.

A Red Cross hotline and another line used to communicate with the UN Command at Panmunjom have already been cut, although an inter-Korean air-traffic hotline still exists.

The jointly run Kaesong industrial park is still in operation.

North Korea missile ranges map

More on This Story

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  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    The Chinese are to blame for maintaining this mad, despotic family in power and as a consequence subjecting millions of people to starvation, misery and in many cases death.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    " Standing up to North Korea's enemies will help Kim Jong-un consolidate his military and political power." Andrea Berger, this site.

    I strongly suspect he feels his father's and grandfather's chair is too big for him, and so he wants to puff himself up: for his own estimation and that of his generals. An immature kid's game, potentially disastrous given this kid has missiles and armies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    I am sick and tired of the world pandering to North Korea and propping it up with aid. We should withdraw all aid and refuse to engage with it until such times as it comes to the negotiating table. As for all this posturing, South Korea and America should make it very clear that any act of aggression will be seen as an act of war and North Korea will be wiped off the map

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    "N Korea leadership have to be viewed as dangerous purely because they are unhinged nutcases with serious weapons at their disposal and they have no understanding of anything outside their own insular and isolated country."

    This describes the US and UK nutters just as well :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    I'd really wish that people would read CAREFULLY the article. People complain about US flying over NORTH KOREA when the article (and previous ones) state clearly they were flying over South Korea. It's the Communist North who is taking offense with the military exercise of S Korea and US. If US is a bully... then it's stupid to provide "the bully" with the reason to kick your read-end!

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    You can always guarantee that if the US hasn't instigated it, they are loitering in the bushes. The world is always more unstable when they stick their oar in. They're still trying to sneak out the backdoor in Afghanistan!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    send in cammeron ,borris and the bulla bulla club,

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Well NK's missiles at best could reach Alaska. so first they'd have to get over Chinese & Russian territory, so even if they did do that both Nations would shoot them down because they could very well fall on them if there were any problems whilst in flight.

    Could you imagine would would happen if NK detonated a Nuke inside the Chinese or Russian border? Even if it were an accident?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Ok, so Kim Jong-Un and the leadership may be slightly far-fetched/unhinged, but why does the US, Britain, and Nato see it fit to keep sanctioning Iran & North Korea when we ourselves have nukes.

    It is none of our business to tell them what to do. How about the Zionist-US imperialists and their allies Israel leave other countries alone for once and stop poking their damn noses into everything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    They don't need long range missiles if they have the bomb. American borders are so porous, and ethnically diverse and extensive that a fleet of trucks driven by NK drivers could be loaded with nukes and disappear amongst the normal traffic. And no one would be the wiser until a dozen cities vanished up in smoke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Crazy people will do crazy things. Thus we are now at the beginning of what may be a terrible step in to war where nations will take sides and unexpected consequences will result. It seems that North Korea oppresses it's people and like Iran fails to allow human rights to govern the actions of the leaders. Americans should be temperate not gun-ho in their reaction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    19. hoeby

    The dinosaurs had their chance. Except they blew it. Well, an asteroid blew it.

    What is the very worst that can come of this situation? Really? There are limitless consequences. With this in mind, what is worse? Doing nothing?

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Flatten the place now and get it over with. No more long drawn out campaigns where, in the end, more people get hurt lets just get it over and done with. If you think we should play nicey nicey then time will prove you wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Getting fed up with the wack jobs in North Korea & Iran running their mouths and giving it the big'un.

    They wouldn't say it to our faces.

    Time to bop them on the nose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    The sad thing is that no matter how mad these people are, and the hats are truly mad, the people who will suffer are not the ones to blame.

    My immediate reaction is to say "bring it on, and see where that gets you" but on reflection that's just childish.

    NC's ability to harm the USA is negligible and we should just ignore the posturing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    9. JohnSmithREAL
    why did america get involved in the north korean civil war ??

    Spend 10 minutes on google mate, and all will be explained.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    "The Pentagon has flown B-52 and B-2 bombers over the Korean peninsula - moves that are guaranteed to provoke a hostile reaction".
    If so, "provoking a hostile reaction" would be a step towards war, not the "calling of a bluff". Nearly 100 years after WW1 we should know the consequences of the sort of the irresponsible brinkmanship involved with the U.S. sending bombers over North Korea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Did those B-2 pilots forget to press the "stealth" button?

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    North Korea isn't the biggest issue here, whatever happens the US could blow them away. It's China's reactions which need to be watched with, erm, interest . . .

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Currency wars are eventually followed by proxy wars and hot wars. What else is new? Oh yeah...all sides have nukes.


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