In the latest sign that the North Korean nuclear crisis might be on the verge of settlement, Russia has embarked on a joint, 10-day naval exercise with South Korea and Japan. In addition, this Saturday, 30,000 Russian soldiers will carry out a drill simulating a response to a massive flow of North Korean refugees that might take place as a result of a war or a collapse of Kim Jong-il's regime.
The significance of these events, both reported in Tuesday's New York Times, is potentially staggering. Russia (which has long been one of North Korea's chief allies and suppliers) has never taken part in naval exercises with South Korea and Japan (which have long been North Korea's chief foes). Add to that the border drill—which suggests that Russia is figuring out how to deal with, but not necessarily to prevent, the possibility of Kim's downfall—and the "Dear Leader" of Pyongyang must be getting a tad nervous.
These developments come on the eve of six-power talks concerning North Korea's nuclear-weapons program, to take place Aug. 25-27 in Beijing, involving the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan, and Russia.