LONDON — You have to admire his timing. Just before Russian President Vladimir Putin left for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) annual meeting in Hanoi this month, he sent out a strong warning to the world leaders he expected to meet there.

In Moscow, Putin warned China and the United States that he was drawing on Russia’s new oil and gas wealth to expand and improve its nuclear-war capabilities. He announced that in 2007 alone he would be spending $11.2 billion on new weapons, including 17 new nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles. He added that between now and 2015 he would be spending $188 billion on new weapons.

In case U.S. President George W. Bush and President Hu Jintao of China missed the point, Putin added that he was increasing weapons-related allocations to enhance Russia’s deadly capability because Russia’s “strategic deterrent forces must be capable of destroying any potential aggressor, no matter what modern weapons systems it has.”

Of course, Putin knows what weapons systems China has because Russia sells them to it. He also knows what the U.S. has because the U.S. keeps boasting about them.

The only other countries with a handful of nuclear weapons capable of reaching parts of Russia are Britain and France. Putin can keep them quiet by threatening to turn off their oil and gas supplies on Christmas week. But they were not at the APEC meeting so he did not have to include them in his threats — he just needed to remind Bush and Hu of how “powerful” Russia is.

When you think about it, it is only oil, gas and nuclear weapons that gets Russia a seat among world leaders. Without them it would be just a failed state, struggling to survive as its population continues to drop and its millions of poor get poorer.

Bush has made a point of showing that he seeks Putin’s support on his policy toward North Korea. He even offered, in turn, to stop objecting to Russia’s joining the World Trade Organization. So what we have now is a warm welcome of WTO membership to a country that violates virtually all trade rules with its neighbors, including Georgia.

While Putin went out to Moscow airport to accept Bush’s offer of WTO membership when Bush’s plane dropped by to refuel, he did not go out of his way to support the U.S. policy on North Korea at the APEC meetings in Hanoi.

In fact, Bush could not get most of his counterparts to agree to include support for the U.S. policy on North Korea in the report of the meetings. They simply read a verbal statement of qualified support behind closed doors. Outside those doors, many leaders made statements about the treatment of Pyongyang that were contrary to the U.S. position.

Bush just does not seem to realize that the leaders of whom he asks support no longer take him seriously, if they ever did. Some of his staff are beginning to see the light, a bit.

On North Korea, Bush’s policy remains as it was as set out by Vice President Dick Cheney, who said awhile back that “We (U.S. leaders) don’t negotiate with evil, we defeat it.”

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was also in Hanoi and her position on North Korea was a bit more liberal than Bush’s. She said “If the leaders of Burma and North Korea were to follow the example of Vietnam, if they made the strategic choice and took the necessary steps to join the international community, then it would open a new path to peace and prosperity.”

Interesting. This suggests that the U.S. has dropped the idea that regime change might be good for North Korea.

The U.S. is out on a limb on North Korea. Only Japan supports the extreme reaction of the U.S. to North Korea’s setting off a nuclear device (not a bomb, according to U.S. technicians) Oct. 9, but this is hardly surprising. Maintaining a hard line against Pyongyang would save Japan the trouble of having to start paying North Koreans the billions of dollars it owes them as compensation for the atrocities committed against them during the Japanese occupation from 1910 to 1945.

Although Russia, China and South Korea supported the U.N. policy of imposing sanctions on North Korea until it renounces its nuclear-weapons program, they have also indicated that they don’t really go along with those sanctions.

South Korea’s President Roh Moo Hyun made it clear in Hanoi that his country could not support the application of the U.S.-sponsored U.N. sanctions. China and Russia have made it clear from the beginning that they don’t take them seriously.

When the U.S. was pushing the sanctions through the U.N. Security Council, it said it was important not to become over-emotional in the reaction to North Korea’s nuclear development.

The U.S. obviously agrees with the Russian and Chinese position in principle, since it has welcomed Pakistan and India, despite their nuclear weapons, into the global community and poured resources into the two countries. Only the U.S. (and Japan) thinks North Korea should be treated differently.

North Korea has made it clear that it wants nuclear capability only for defensive purposes. For more than 50 years it has not acted aggressively toward any other country. On the other hand, U.S.-supported Pakistan, India and Israel, all of which have nuclear weapons, have all engaged in wars against their neighbors. And now Putin is saying that Russia intends to augment its capability to destroy China if it gets aggressive.

Putin believes China wants to take back the large part of Siberia that the Russian czar took away from a weak China 150 years ago. He is implementing a lot of measures to control China’s involvement in Siberia (and the rest of Russia).

Odd that Bush has not commented on Putin’s growing aggressiveness toward China and other states. Russia has a stated deterrent policy for the use of nuclear weapons against “potential” aggressors. North Korea does not.

Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel, especially Russia, are bigger, far bigger, threats to world peace than North Korea. Yet Bush’s U.S. supports all of these countries. Odd, and worrying.

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