A leading Russian expert on North Korea said on Thursday he had serious doubts about Pyongyang's involvement into the sinking of South Korea's Cheonan warship.
Relations between the two Koreas soured after Seoul accused North Korea of firing a torpedo from a submarine at the 1,200-ton South Korean Cheonan corvette. The vessel sank near the disputed Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea on March 26 causing the loss of 46 lives.
"I personally have serous doubts that it was North Korea that sank the ship. Why do this? For what purpose?... I don't see any logic," said Konstantin Pulikovsky, who maintained official contacts with Pyongyang while serving as presidential envoy to Russia's Far East in 2000-2005.
He said an armed conflict in the region was possible after the maritime incident, which had seriously escalated tensions in the region.
"But such conflict development is unwelcome, [and] unnecessary. I see that the stronger parties to the conflict are willing to impose their will on the 'weaker party.' But, in my opinion, the stronger party's task is to assist the weaker [party], not to ruin it," Pulikovsky said.
On Monday, South Korea froze economic relations and maritime communications with its northern neighbor. The decision was yet another blow to the North's economy already damaged by past UN sanctions intended to force Pyongyang to quit its nuclear program.
North Korea retaliated on Tuesday by announcing that it was cutting all ties with Seoul and allegedly ordered its 1.2-million armed forces to get ready for combat. Two days later, it said that it is withdrawing all its military safeguards in its relations with the South and scrapping their agreement aimed at preventing clashes off the west coast.
Tensions continued to escalate on Thursday as Pyongyang threatened to block South Korean access to the joint Kaesong Industrial Park on the border between the two countries, where some 700 South Korean citizens work.
"I think that the North wants to show that it will be hard to defeat them in an armed conflict," Pulikovsky said.
The Russian expert said that according to his extensive knowledge of the North Korean leadership, armed forces and popular sentiments, "it will be impossible to defeat them with conventional weapons."
The expert said Russia should continue discussions within the framework of the six-party talks to ease tensions.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent on Wednesday a group of Russian experts to South Korea to examine the results of the investigation into the Yellow Sea incident.
MOSCOW, May 27 (RIA Novosti)
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