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Putin pivots to Asia, especially N. Korea

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By The Associated Press
Wednesday, June 4, 2014, 9:06 p.m.

TOKYO — Angry with the West's response over Ukraine and eager to diversify its options, Russia is moving rapidly to bolster ties with North Korea in a diplomatic nose-thumbing that could complicate the U.S.-led effort to squeeze Pyongyang into giving up its nuclear weapons program.

Russia's proactive strategy in Asia, which involves cozying up to China and has been dubbed “Putin's Pivot,” began years ago as Moscow's answer to Washington's much-touted alliance-building and rebalancing of its military forces in the Pacific. But it has gained a new sense of urgency since the unrest in Ukraine — and Pyongyang is already getting a big windfall with high-level political exchanges and promises from Russia of trade and development projects.

Moscow's overtures to North Korea reflect both a defensive distancing from the EU and Washington because of their sanctions over Ukraine and a broader, long-term effort by Russia to strengthen its hand in Asia by building political alliances, expanding energy exports and developing Russian regions in Siberia and the Far East.

For North Korea, the timing couldn't be better.

Better ties with Russia could provide a much needed economic boost, a counterbalance against Chinese influence and a potentially useful wedge against the West in international forums — and particularly in the U.S.-led effort to isolate Pyongyang over its development of nuclear weapons.

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