North Korea launched a multistage rocket that it said was carrying a communications satellite at 11:30 a.m. (02:30 a.m. GMT) on Sunday, defying pressure from the United States, Japan, South Korea and other countries, which suspect the launch was a cover for the test of a Taepodong-2 long-range missile.
"We need to decide which is a greater danger for Russia, the region and the world as a whole - nuclear weapons, which exist already, or missiles which are tested three times in the space of 11 years," said Alexander Vorontsov, head of the Korea and Mongolia department at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Oriental Studies.
He recalled that Pyongyang threatened to pull out of six-party negotiations on the North's denuclearization if its missile program was criticized and condemned by the UN.
Alexander Zhebin, head of the Korean Studies Department at the Institute of the Far East, played down North Korea's military and economic capability.
He said that in the past 20 years, North Korea "has been in a serious economic crisis, its population is starving, fatigued and demoralized, while its armed forces use arms and equipment dating back to the 1960s-1970s."
He said the view of North Korea as a potential source of aggression is "a Cold War stereotype."
Georgy Toloraya, director of Korean programs at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Economics, said the rocket launch "pursued domestic political goals - specifically, to boost the nation's sagging morale."
The UN Security Council has failed to adopt a resolution condemning North Korea's launch of what it said was a rocket carrying a satellite as Russia and China urged caution.
The 15-member Security Council met for an emergency meeting late on Sunday at Japan's request, but strong opposition from Russia and China prevented the adoption of even a preliminary statement of condemnation.
North Korea claimed the rocket, which was launched over Japan, successfully delivered a communications satellite into orbit, but the U.S. and South Korean militaries said all three stages fell into the ocean and that "no object entered orbit."
The United States, Britain, France and Japan drafted a resolution condemning North Korea, which was supported by six more Security Council members, and opposed by Russia, China, Vietnam, Libya and Uganda.
Washington and its allies argued for sanctions against Pyongyang, saying that the launch violated Security Council Resolution 1718, which was passed after North Korea's 2006 nuclear test, but Russia and China called for restraint on the grounds that the resolution does not prohibit the launch of satellites.
Moscow and Beijing expressed concern that any action against Pyongyang may increase tensions and force the secretive communist regime to withdraw from the six-party talks.
The six-nation talks, involving North Korea, South Korea, Russia, Japan, China and the United States, were launched in 2003 after Pyongyang withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.