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Current standoff between two Koreas unlikely to grow over into major armed conflict

August 21, 2015, 18:25 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
People watching a movie showing soldiers line up in front of their tanks shown on a large screen in Pyongyang, North Korea

People watching a movie showing soldiers line up in front of their tanks shown on a large screen in Pyongyang, North Korea

© AP Photo/Dita Alangkara

MOSCOW, August 21. /TASS/. The current standoff between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea will unlikely grow over into a major armed conflict although the risk of an unpredictable pivot in developments is still looming large, Russian experts said on Friday.

The situation on the Korean peninsula has evidenced a sharp deterioration. North Korean artillery opened fire at the positions of South Korean military on Thursday and the latter retaliated with gunfire as well. Although no one was killed or wounded, this exchange of fire may have far-reaching consequences.

Pyongyang has warned it may start a full-scale military operation as early as on Saturday if Seoul does not stop propagandistic broadcasting to the areas of North Korea adjoining the inter-Korean border.

"I don’t think that’s the outset of a major armed conflict of some kind," Vzglyad internet newspaper said quoting Alexander Zhebin, the director of the Center for Korean Research at the Moscow-based Institute of Far-Eastern Studies.

"The northerners have said more than ones they will fire at the southerners’ loudspeakers if the South Korean propaganda campaign intensifies," Konstantin Asmolov, the leading research fellow at the center said. "Officials in Seoul have said no less frequently the South Korean troops will open retaliatory fire."

Asmolov believes that it is crucial now to keep the current events from degrading into something more sinister. A risk of this does exist although it is not big.

"South Korea has an abundance of the military prepared to unleash a conflict with the DPRK," he said.

A sweeping conflict is out of the question, the Deputy Director of the Russian Center for APEC Research reporting to the Presidential Academy of Government Service, the former Russian ambassador to the Republic of Korea, Gleb Ivashentsev said.

"Sporadic exchanges of fire of this sort have taken place occasionally on a regular basis over the past several years," he told TASS. "Someone would open fire somewhere on the border as a minimum once in three or four years but the situation would be settled every time."

"If a war was really in the offing, no one would spend three days in succession discussing whether or not it was time to begin," Ivashentsev said. He recalled that Seoul is located a mere 60 kilometers away from the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas and this means North Korean artillery can target it freely enough.

A big enough portion of blame for the current aggravation of tensions goes to the South Koreans who "should have displayed more restraint and flexibility."

"There’re plenty of diehards there who will clutch at any opportunity to sting the northerners but as the saying goes it’s not prudent to tease geese."

In the past, the South Koreans unfolded public address systems along the line of disengagement and broadcast the anti-North slogans of all sorts but they dropped the practice some eleven years ago.

Also, the South Koreans launched hot air balloons stuffed with propaganda leaflets towards North Koreans. The latter, however, did not do anything along these lines.

"There are definite forces and groupings both in South Korea and the U.S. that would like to fan the tensions," Dr. Ivashentsev said.

He recalled Hollywood’s 2014 movie ‘The Interview’ a comedy that depicts an attempt at Kim Jong-un’s life.

"When President Obama was asked about his opinion of the movie he said he was glad it had been released," Dr. Ivashentsev said. "Wasn’t it a true insult to the head of a state recognized by 165 countries?"

Given the situation that has taken shape now, the parties to the conflict should sit down at the table of negotiations and tap the ways of smoothing out the inter-Korean relations, he said.

"They (the Republic of Korea) had two presidents at the beginning of the 2000’s, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, who made trips to Pyongyang, reach agreements on economic cooperation and so on," Dr. Ivashentsev said. "But a more conservative administration came to power in 2008 and renounced the former course. It’s time to revert to it now."

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