Russia ‘moves troops and equipment’ to North Korea border, as Kim Jong-un warns of ‘super-mighty pre-emptive strike’
Russia has moved heavy military equipment towards its border with North Korea amid mounting fears of a military clash between Pyongyang and the United States over the North’s nuclear program.
A flurry of military activity in Russia’s far east came as the UN Security Council strongly condemned North Korea’s latest missile test and threatened to impose new sanctions against Pyongyang for its "highly destabilizing behavior."
In a unanimous statement, the council demanded that North Korea "conduct no further nuclear tests" and said Pyongyang’s "illegal missile activities" were "greatly increasing tension in the region and beyond."
North Korea carried out a failed missile test on Sunday, a day after displaying missiles at a parade in Pyongyang.
The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, said in an editorial on Thursday: "In the case of our super-mighty preemptive strike being launched, it will completely and immediately wipe out not only US imperialists’ invasion forces in South Korea and its surrounding areas but the US mainland and reduce them to ashes,".
The threat appeared to be a response to comments by Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, who said on Wednesday the US was looking for ways to “bring pressure” on the North Korean regime into giving up its nuclear ambitions.
It was revealed earlier this week that a US aircraft carrier group led by the USS Carl Vinson would spend another 30 days at sea before heading towards North Korean waters.
Last week Donald Trump, the US president, said he had ordered an “armada” into the northwest Pacific in a show of force designed to deter North Korea from further missile and nuclear weapons test.
The US defence ministry acknowledged on Tuesday that the ships had actually travelled into the Indian Ocean to carry out manoeuvres with Australian forces, and only began its journey north recently.
Mr Trump has called on China, Pyongyang’s only ally, to rein in North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but has threatened to act alone to “solve” the problem if necessary.
Residents and local media in Russia’s Far East reported large military convoys travelling in the direction of the North Korean border since the weekend, in what appear to be contingency plans to contain fallout from a possible military clash between the United States and North Korea.
A video published by local news site DVHab.ru showed a train carrying twelve tracked vehicles, including Tor surface to air missile systems, travelling through Khabarovsk in the direction of Vladivostok.
“Some say the situation around North Korea is a fiction, but this is the third train of equipment we’ve seen since this morning,” a man can be heard saying in the film. “Looks like something is being sent to the Korean border.”
Heavy equipment including armoured personnel carriers and helicopters were also seen travelling south on the Khabarovsk-Vladivostok highway on Saturday and Sunday, Vostok Media reported citing local residents.
A Russian military spokesman said the flurry of military activity was part of “routine” exercises.
"Mass troop movements can be seen in various regions of the district at the moment: we are inspecting bases in the whole military district from Baikal to Chukotka: units are leaving their bases for field exercises in unfamiliar areas,” Colonel Alexander Gordeev, a spokesman for the Eastern Military District, told the site.
Col Gordeev said the Tor missiles filmed in Khabarovsk region were likely returning from exercises in neighbouring Buryatia last month.
Vladivostok, a city of 600,000 people and the home of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, is just 100 miles from the North Korean border.
The movements have not been confirmed by the Kremlin.
The movements, which have not been confirmed by the Kremlin, follow reports in South Korean media that China has moved an extra 150,000 troops to its own border with North Korea.
Codename Max Thunder
At a meeting with top officials on Thursday, South Korea’s acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn repeatedly called for the military and security ministries to maintain vigilance.
The defence ministry said US and South Korean air forces were conducting an annual training exercise, codenamed Max Thunder, until April 28. North Korea routinely labels such exercises preparations for invasion.
"We are conducting a practical and more intensive exercise than ever," South Korean pilot Colonel Lee Bum-chul told reporters. "Through this exercise, I am sure we can deter war and remove our enemy’s intention to provoke us."
South Korean presidential candidates clashed on Wednesday night in a debate over the planned deployment in South Korea of a US-supplied Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, which has angered China.
Frontrunner Moon Jae-in was criticised for leaving his options open before the May 9 election.
On Monday, Hwang and Pence reaffirmed their plans to go ahead with the THAAD, but the decision will be up to the next South Korean president. For its part, China says the system’s powerful radar is a threat to its security.
The North has said it has developed a missile that can strike the mainland United States, but officials and experts believe it is some time away from mastering the necessary technology, including miniaturising a nuclear warhead.
Russia, US at odds
The United States and Russia clashed at the United Nations on Wednesday over a US-drafted Security Council statement to condemn North Korea’s latest failed ballistic missile test.
Diplomats said China had agreed to the statement.
Such statements by the 15-member council have to be agreed by consensus.
Previous statements denouncing missile launches "welcomed efforts by council members, as well as other states, to facilitate a peaceful and comprehensive solution through dialogue". The latest draft statement dropped "through dialogue" and Russia requested it be included again.
"When we requested to restore the agreed language that was of political importance and expressed commitment to continue to work on the draft ... the US delegation without providing any explanations cancelled the work on the draft," the Russian UN mission said in a statement.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China believed in the Security Council maintaining unity.
"Speaking with one voice is extremely important to the Security Council appropriately responding to the relevant issue on the peninsula," he told reporters.
There has been some confusion over the whereabouts of a US aircraft carrier group after Trump said last week he had sent an "armada" as a warning to North Korea, even as the ships were still far from Korean waters.
The US military’s Pacific Command explained that the USS Carl Vinson strike group first had to complete a shorter-than-planned period of training with Australia. It was now heading for the Western Pacific as ordered, it said.
China’s influential Global Times newspaper, which is published by the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official paper, wondered whether the misdirection was deliberate.
"The truth seems to be that the US military and president jointly created fake news and it is without doubt a rare scandal in US history, which will be bound to cripple Trump’s and US dignity," it said.