Putin declares North Korea winner in standoff with South Korea and US

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un emerged victorious in the latest standoff with South Korea and the United States over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

Putin said during a meeting with Russian journalists that Kim was “shrewd and mature” in his handling of escalated tensions with Seoul and Washington and is now looking to ease hostilities, according to a Reuters report.

“I believe, Mr. Kim Jong Un has certainly won this round,” Putin said, according to the Kremlinfinanced news outlet RT.

Putin’s comments came two days after North Korea agreed to send a delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympics, which are set to take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February.

That announcement followed talks with South Korean negotiators — the first between the two countries in years.

In a New Year’s Day speech, Kim declared that North Korea had acquired nuclear weapons capable of striking the  mainland U.S. and said that the international community would have to accept the isolated nation as a nuclear-armed state.

But in that same speech, he called for an immediate dialogue with South Korea and said that he was willing to send athletes to the Winter Games.

The U.S. and South Korea have stepped up an international pressure campaign against North Korea in recent months in an effort to force Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

The North, however, has refused to do so, arguing that its development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles is necessary to deter a potential attack by the U.S.