Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category

Russia rejects new sanctions on North Korea

Friday, August 10th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Full comment here by the Russian Foreign Ministry:

Russia has blocked the US application to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea (1718) on introducing international sanctions against one individual and several legal entities, including the Russian commercial bank Agrosoyuz that are allegedly involved in illegal activities that are violating the sanctions regime against that country.

The US-presented evidence in support of this proposal is totally unconvincing.  We cannot accept the pressure exerted by the US delegation in the UN Security Council and its subsidiary bodies, which has already become a norm. By means of an artificially tightened deadline, it is trying to push through its own decisions without taking into account the opinion of the other members. The Americans are also obviously trying to use the prestige of UN Security Council Committee 1718 for justifying similar unilateral restrictions that they have just introduced under far-fetched pretexts.

Far from improving the atmosphere of Russia-US relations, the new US sanctions contradict the logic of easing tension around the DPRK. Clearly, Washington is trying to keep Pyongyang under maximum pressure as long as possible, in effect, up to the completion of the denuclearisation process. This policy is destructive for settling the issues of the Korean Peninsula and evokes extreme resentment.

Source:

Comment by the Information and Press Department on the US application to the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea (1718) on expanding sanctions
Information and Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia
2018-08-10

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North Korea exports coal as ‘Russian’ to get around sanctions

Tuesday, August 7th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reports Radio Free Asia:

In a move aimed at evading U.N. sanctions, North Korea is exporting coal to foreign buyers by sending shipments first to Russian ports, where the coal is falsely labeled as Russian-origin, North Korean sources say.

The export of North Korean coal is strictly banned under international sanctions punishing Pyongyang for its illicit nuclear weapons program, but North Korea has now opened new routes for trade with Russian help, a trade worker in North Pyongan province told RFA’s Korean Service.

“As sanctions on North Korea came into effect a couple of years ago, export routes for coal were blocked,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“So North Korean trading companies have been shipping coal to the ports of Nakhodka and Vladivostok in the southern part of Primorsky Krai, in Russia. North Korean coal is then disguised as having come from Russia and is sent on to other countries under fake documents,” he said.

Loading ports for North Korean coal were formerly at Nampo and Songrim, on North Korea’s west coast close to China, but have now been moved to Chongjin and Wonsan, on the country’s eastern coast close to Russia, he said.

“When North Korean coal arrives at Nakhodka, a Russian company records its time of arrival, the length of the ship’s stay in port, and the amount of coal taken off. They then create false papers including a statement of the coal’s quality,” he said.

With these documents declaring the coal to be of Russian origin, “North Korea now has no problem exporting coal to other countries,” he said.

“The name of the Russian company that my company has been working with is Greenwich, and is located at the port in Nakhodka,” RFA’s source said. “They ask for two dollars per ton to disguise North Korean coal as Russian, and the North Korean trading company pays them right away.”

Still in demand

Also speaking to RFA, a North Korean trade worker based in the Chinese border city of Dandong said that North Korean representatives based in South and North Pyongan provinces collect information on countries needing coal and act as brokers for its export.

“Coal from these western-district mines is very high quality, so there is still a demand for it from other countries even though sanctions are in force,” he said.

A 30 percent deposit from the buying countries is required before the coal begins to move, with 30 percent of the balance due when the coal leaves its Russian port. The remaining 40 percent is then paid when the coal arrives at its final destination, the source said.

“For this three-step payment process, the money is deposited in a “borrowed” Chinese bank account, with the North Korean trading company paying banking fees,” he said.

Some of the coal sent from Russia now goes to South Korea and Japan, RFA’s source said.

“But North Korean company names don’t appear on the shipping papers, so the North Korean trading firms aren’t worried at all,” he said.

Resolve questioned

South Korea’s foreign ministry on Tuesday dismissed allegations that a foreign-flagged ship seen earlier at Nakhodka had delivered North Korean coal to South Korea’s southeastern port of Pohang, claiming the ship’s cargo was of Russian origin, according to an Aug. 7 report by the Yonhap news service.

“Critics here question the left-leaning Moon Jae-in administration’s resolve to curb the transport of North Korean coal,” a source of hard currency for the sanctions-hit Pyongyang regime, Yonhap said.

“But the government has stated that it remains committed to strictly abiding by U.N. mandates despite inter-Korean reconciliation,” Yonhap added.

The United States has meanwhile pointed to what it calls credible reports that Russia is in violation of U.N. sanctions against North Korea, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Aug. 4 urging full compliance with measures aimed at forcing the North to give up its nuclear weapons program.

Article source:
North Korea Exports Coal as ‘Russian’ in Bid to Beat Sanctions
Hyemin Son
Radio Free Asia
2018-08-07

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Thousands of North Korean workers enter Russia despite UN ban

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reports Wall Street Journal:

Russia is letting thousands of new North Korean laborers enter the country and issuing fresh work permits—actions U.S. officials say potentially violate United Nations sanctions aimed at cutting cash flows to Pyongyang and pressing it to give up nuclear weapons.

The U.N. Security Council in September barred governments from issuing new work permits to North Koreans, though some existing labor contracts were allowed to continue.

Since the ban, more than 10,000 new North Korean workers have registered in Russia, according to Russian Interior Ministry records reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, at least 700 new work permits have been issued to North Koreans this year, according to Labor Ministry records.

[…]

North Korean laborers have helped feed the construction boom in St. Petersburg, according to local businessmen.

“They work till they drop,” said a contractor who hires North Koreans across the city. Workers arrive at construction sites at 7 a.m. and work until 10 p.m. or even midnight, taking just two half-hour breaks for meals of rice and dried fish, he said.

Local developers say they pay companies that hire out North Korean workers—firms they say often represent North Korean institutions such as the military or state conglomerates—about 100,000 rubles ($1,600) a month per worker. In government filings and job advertisements, such companies list monthly worker salaries of 16,000 to 20,000 rubles.

That 80% difference is in line with U.S. assessments that North Korea’s government takes the bulk of earnings.

U.N. sanctions mean these laborers should be gone by September, a year after they went into effect, because the workers are required to leave once their permits expire, usually within a year. Even workers with multiyear permits must be out by the end of 2019 under the sanctions.

Yet many firms contracting out laborers—Russian companies owned and run by North Koreans, according to corporate documents and researchers—are investing in new offices, applying for new work permits and negotiating new projects.

“The Kim regime continues to dispatch citizens abroad,” said C4ADS, a nonprofit that advises the U.S. government on security risks, in a report released Thursday. “In doing so, it continues to flout international sanctions to generate foreign currency.”

About 100,000 or more North Korean laborers have been working overseas in recent years, the U.S. State Department said. Pyongyang’s labor exports earned as much as $2 billion a year for the Kim regime, analysts say.

According to Russian government data, around 24,000 North Koreans were officially working in the country at the end of last year.

Full article and source:
Thousands of North Korean Workers Enter Russia Despite U.N. Ban
Ian Talley and Anatoly Kurmanev
Wall Street Journal
2018-08-02

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China and Russia blocked US request for North Korea oil suspension at UN

Friday, July 27th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reports NK News:

China and Russia have blocked a U.S. request made at the UN Security Council (UNSC) to stop oil transfers to North Korea, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN – Nikki Haley – confirmed on Friday.

The U.S. made the request following a submission of evidence to the 1718 committee that claimed North Korea conducted up to 89 prohibited ship-to-ship (STS) transfers involving oil in the first five months of 2018.

Haley, speaking alongside U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, reiterated that the U.S. had proposed the complete ban on exporting petroleum products to North Korea as the STS transfers would have exceeded the annual cap for such products established under UNSC Resolution 2397.

“China and Russia blocked it. Now for China and Russia to block it, what are they telling us? Are they telling us that they want to continue supplying this oil?” she said.

“They claim they need more information. We don’t need any more information, the sanctions committee has what it needs, we all know it is going forward, we put pressure today on China and Russia to abide … and to help us to continue with denuclearization,” she added.

Haley was speaking at a press briefing in New York following meetings between herself, Pompeo, UNSC members and officials from Japan and South Korea – including Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.

Pompeo, who spoke to the press prior to Haley’s comments, said he was also there to update the UNSC on diplomatic progress between the U.S. and the DPRK.

Sanctions enforcement, however, was at the forefront of the discussions and despite China and Russia blocking the U.S. request for the halting of oil transfers to the DPRK, Pompeo said the council was in agreement on other key elements.

“The UN Security Council is united, on the need for final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea as agreed to by Chairman Kim. Members of the UN Security Council and by extension all UN member states have unanimously agreed to fully enforce sanctions on North Korea and we expect them to continue to honor those commitments,” Pompeo said.

Full article:
China, Russia blocked U.S. request for North Korea oil suspension at UN
Hamish Macdonald
NK News
2018-07-20

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South Korea, North Korea and Russia discuss railway cooperation

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Trilateral cooperation discussions on the cross-peninsular railway happened in Rason despite Russia’s earlier cancellation:

A group of representatives from South Korea’s presidential panel returned home Sunday after a trip to North Korea, where they discussed possible trilateral economic cooperation involving the two Koreas and Russia, its official said.

The Presidential Committee on Northern Economic Cooperation sent an 11-member team led by committee chairman Song Young-gil to the North’s northeastern border region of Rason. They stayed there for two days from Friday.

The team originally planned to attend a seminar hosted by Russia to discuss trilateral economic cooperation involving the two Koreas and Russia but canceled its participation. Instead it had discussions with North Koreans and Russians on the Rajin-Khasan project and other issues, the official said.

Rason, formerly known as Rajin and Sonbong, was designated as a special economic zone in 1991. The North has sought to develop the zone by drawing outside investment but faced setbacks amid its continued provocations.

The Rajin-Khasan project, in particular, is a logistics project aimed at transporting coal from Russia to the North by using a 54 km-long railway linking Khasan in Russia to the Rajin port of North Korea and then to South Korea by ship.

There have been test operations of the transport route three times, including the latest one in November 2015.

The trilateral cooperation project, however, has been put on hold as South Korea banned maritime transport from the North in early 2016 in the wake of the North’s nuclear and missile provocations.

South Korea and the United States have said that full-fledged economic cooperation with the North should wait until it carries out its promised “complete denuclearization.”

“The Rajin-Khasan project is not subject to U.N. sanctions but to sanctions imposed by the U.S. So we plan to draw up and propose a broad picture and make preparations for joint study until there is progress in denuclearization and discussion begins on lifting those sanctions,” the panel official said.

Article source:
Presidential panel discusses Rajin-Khasan cooperation during trip to N.K.
Yonhap News
2018-07-15

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Russian sanctions enforcement grounds business with North Korea to a halt

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

NPR reports, from Vladivostok, of frustrated Russian businesspeople and halted dealings with North Korea, in the face of sanctions pressure:

In his second-floor office in a shabby building a few steps away from the Hotel Gavan, Vladimir Baranov was fuming over the new restrictions.

In May, his company, InvestStroyTrest, started a ferry service between Vladivostok and the North Korean port of Rajin, a 12-hour ride along the coast.

“Of course I don’t have any cargo volumes with these sanctions, which ban even wheelchairs,” said Baranov. “I’m not working right now because there’s no cargo.”

His company’s ferry, a North Korean vessel named the Man Gyong Bong, is now stuck in Rajin after Vladivostok port officials refused to let it dock under suspicion it was carrying sanctioned goods — a claim that Baranov is disputing in court.

Baranov is still hoping he’ll find passengers among Russian and Chinese tourists, though he can soon forget about the region’s thousands of North Korean migrant workers that Moscow says will have to leave.

Most of these laborers work on construction sites and farms in the Russian Far East, though some are employed at the North Korean restaurants that dot Vladivostok. At the Koryo restaurant next to city hall, young North Korean women in traditional costumes belt out sentimental Korean tunes over the karaoke system.

“They’re great workers who’ll work day and night,” said Valentin Pak, a Russian entrepreneur and politician whose own ancestors emigrated from Korea five generations ago. “They will be sorely missed.”

Pak said it will be hard to replace the North Koreans and is skeptical of statements by regional officials that they can be replaced with workers from India or Central Asia.

Ever since Russia began settling its remote Pacific territories in the mid-19th century, labor shortages have been a serious problem — and workers from neighboring Korea were a logical choice to help fill the gap. During Soviet times and into the 1990s, North Koreans toiled under brutal conditions in Siberian logging camps run by the North Korean government under an agreement between Moscow and Pyongyang.

Today the government in Pyongyang still profits from its citizens going to Russia for work, which is the whole idea behind the restrictions on North Korean workers.

“For North Korea, it’s a business, because all the laborers who work here pay their government to be here,” said Irina Tyan, a businesswoman who co-owns a farm with the North Korean consulate in Vladivostok. Like Pak, she is a member of Russia’s ethnic Korean community, which is well-integrated into Russian society.

Tyan’s North Korean partners invested $2 million into a 10,000-acre farm that grows soy, corn, wheat and oats. Until last year, the business employed 10 Russians and about 20 North Koreans.

The North Korean workers earned 20,000 rubles ($320) per month plus room, board and clothing, Tyan said, though she didn’t pay them directly but via their North Korean government supervisor.

She disagrees with reports thatNorth Koreans work in slave-like conditions in Russia. They just don’t make the same demands as Russian workers — such as an eight-hour workday with lunch and smoking breaks — and are under the strict guidance of their North Korean minders, Tyan said.

“They’re afraid, that’s clear,” she said. “But they’ll still do anything to get here because they can go where they want, go shopping, buy whatever they want or need. They won’t say it out loud, but it’s clear that they want to continue living and working here.”

After her quota of 30 North Korean workers was canceled because of the sanctions, Tyan’s last eight North Koreans are due to go home this month. If the sanctions aren’t lifted by next year’s planting season, she said she would have to sell the business.

“Of course, nobody knows what will happen next,” Tyan said. “Maybe they’ll lift the sanctions tomorrow, maybe in a year, maybe never.”

One Russian businessman who remains optimistic is Ivan Tonkikh, who runs RasonConTrans, a cargo terminal in Rajin, North Korea, jointly owned by Russian Railways and the North Korean state.

Although the venture is exempt from the latest U.N. sanctions, Tonkikh is having trouble finding partners who would be willing to export coal via Rajin. While business is at a standstill, he said that he wants to convince the U.N. to allow the delivery of humanitarian shipments to his port.

Tonkikh downplays the economic levers Moscow has over Pyongyang, though he adds that the cargo terminal is an investment in a brighter future.

“Rajin is only the beginning. It’s the first segment of a restored trans-Korean railway,” said Tonkikh. “We call Rajin the ‘short track to consensus’ on the Korean Peninsula.”

Article source:
Sanctions Targeting North Korea Ripple Into Russia
Lucian Kim
NPR
2018-04-19

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Recent Russia-North Korea developments

Friday, March 30th, 2018

“Russia and North Korea hold joint meeting on cooperation in trade, economy, science and technology”
Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
March 22, 2018

The DPRK-Russia Intergovernmental Committee for cooperation in trade, economy, science and technology occurred at the People’s Palace of Culture in central Pyongyang on March 21.

According to the KCNA, the North Korean delegation was headed by Minister of External Economic Relations Kim Yong-jae, while the economic delegation from the Russian Federation included Minister of Development of the Russian Far East Aleksandr Galushka as well as Russian Ambassador to Pyongyang Alexander Matsegora.

The seventh meeting was held in Pyongyang in April 2015. This year, the Russian delegation arrived in North Korea on March 20 to attend the meeting.

According to the KCNA, “The two sides discussed the issues of further expanding and developing trade, economic and scientific cooperation between North Korea and Russia.” Specific agenda for the meeting was not disclosed.

On the same day, the Russian delegations met with DPRK Vice Premier and State Planning Commission Chairman Ro Tu-chol and presented to him a gift for North Korean leader, Chairman Kim Jong Un.

Russia and North Korea are respectively sanctioned by the United States and the international community. The expansion of cooperation between the two countries appears somewhat of a position where “misery loves company.”

South Korea’s Yonhap News reported on March 22 that the two countries would discuss bilateral cooperation in the areas of energy, agriculture and fisheries, transportation, and science and technology.

In addition, the news agency said Galushka invited the North Korean leadership to the 4th Eastern Economic Forum scheduled to be held in Vladivostok in September. “We will discuss trade and economic relations between Russia and North Korea within the framework set forth by the United Nations Security Council,” Galushka said at the beginning of the meeting. According to what the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East disclosed on its website, the Russian minister also said that Russia is “ready to provide full support for the establishment of bilateral cooperation that does not violate the international sanctions.”

NK News and The Washington Post reported that the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East announced that the two sides would create a working group on a new  vehicular bridge crossing to complement the existing railway bridge:

The two nations have long suggested a crossing that would allow vehicles to go between them without a lengthy detour through China. And Wednesday, the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East announced in a statement that the two sides would create a working group on a new crossing.

“There are 23 automobile checkpoints between [North Korea] and China, and not one with Russia,” the ministry quoted Ro Tu Chol, a North Korean minister, as saying during the meeting. “Currently, when importing goods from [Russia’s far east], they do not come across the border with Russia, but through China. This greatly extends the path.”

Ro suggested expanding the existing bridge, according to the statement. The Russian representative at the meeting, Alexander Galushka, the minister for the development of the Russia’s far east, suggested building a semi-permanent bridge of pontoons.

Historically, DPRK-Russia trade amounts to about $100 million per year, but it is unclear to me what the current level of trade is now that UNSC sanctions have been ratcheted up. Russian organizations have been playing a role in helping the DPRK bypass sanctions enforcement. Russia has resisted repatriating North Korean workers. There is also a ferry that runs between Valdivostok and Rason that facilitates trade. So the picture is complicated.

Russia’s biggest investment in North Korea is its railway link to Rason Port. North Korea reportedly receives some internet service through Russia. Russia also maintains the financial link between the United Nations and North Korea’s sanctioned foreign Trade Bank. In 2014, Russia and North Korea settled Soviet-era debt issue.

However, plenty of other ambitious projects have not taken off. Russia has expressed interest in renovating the North Korean railway system. Russia has expressed an interest in a gas pipeline that supplies product to both North and South Korea. Russia and North Korea have also discussed at least one minerals-for-electricity deal. There was even talk of allowing Russian firms into the Kaesong Industrial Complex, as well as modernization of the mining sector, automobile industry, and electric power plants (built by the Soviets).

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Sanctioned Foreign Trade Bank can’t pay North Korea’s UN dues…

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

Reuters reports that North Korea cannot pay its UN dues owing to sanctions on its official hard currency repository, the Foreign Trade Bank (FTB). According to the article:

North Korea’s U.N. Ambassador Ja Song Nam met with U.N. management chief Jan Beagle on Friday to ask the world body to help secure a bank transaction channel so Pyongyang could pay the nearly $184,000 it says it owes for 2018.

U.N. member states are required to pay assessed contributions to the world body’s regular and peacekeeping budgets, as well as a budget for international tribunals.

U.S. and U.N. sanctions on the Foreign Trade Bank, North Korea’s primary foreign exchange bank, were preventing the country ”from honoring its obligation as a U.N. member state by hindering even normal activities such as payment of the U.N. contribution,” the North Korean mission said in a statement late on Friday.

The United States sanctioned the Foreign Trade Bank in 2013, while the U.N. Security Council blacklisted the bank last August.

The 15-member U.N. Security Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

According to the U.N. Charter, countries in arrears in an amount that equals or exceeds the contributions due for two preceding years can lose their vote in the 193-member U.N. General Assembly. The General Assembly can grant an exception if a country can show that conditions beyond its control contributed to the inability to pay.

The U.N. website said that as of Jan. 28 there 12 countries in arrears of more than two years. Apart from its 2018 dues, North Korea said it is up to date with its payments.

I know that many in the diplomatic and NGO communities have been physically bringing in cash to fund their operations in Pyongyang since the FTB was sanctioned.

There was a Russian Bank, Bank Sputnik, that had maintained a financial link to the FTB to service the diplomatic community. However, this banking link was severed in September 2017 and apparently remains closed.

UPDATE (2018-2-21): A news site I was previously unaware of has some interesting information on the relationship between the DPRK’s Foreign Trade Bank and the Russian bank, Sputnik. According to Inner City News:

In the face of North Korea sanctions, the UN in December 2017 used the sanctioned Foreign Trade Bank and Russia’s Sputnik Bank to transfer EUR 3,974,920.62 into the country, documents obtained by Inner City Press show. A letter from Sputnik Bank states that “unauthorized person (I.V. Tonkih) led negotiations with Korean party on interbank correspondent relationship.” Photos here.

NK News did a better job reporting on the relationship between Sputnik and the FTB.

Read the full story here:
North Korea says unable to pay U.N. dues, blames sanctions
Reuters
2018-2-10

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Russian-North Korea projects foundering because of missile tests: minister

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

According to Reuters:

Commercial ventures planned between Russia and North Korea three years ago are not being implemented because of Pyongyang’s missile testing program, the Minister for the Development of the Russian Far East, Alexander Galushka, said.

Russia has been under international scrutiny over North Korea because it has taken a more doveish approach to Pyongyang than Washington, and Russian trade with North Korea increased sharply at the start of this year.

The United States government earlier this month imposed new North Korea-related sanctions that targeted Russian firms and individuals for, it alleged, supporting Pyongyang’s weapons programs and providing oil.

However Galushka, in an interview with Reuters, said Moscow was faithfully implementing the international sanctions regime on North Korea, and held up the stalled bilateral projects as an indication that Pyongyang was paying an economic price for its weapons program.

“Russia has not violated, does not violate and will not work outside the framework (of the resolution) that was accepted by the U.N. Security Council,” said Galushka, who also heads a Russia-North Korean Intergovernmental Commission.

Russian businesses discussed a number of projects with North Korea in 2014. But then North Korea conducted military tests, including some involving nuclear weapons, and the projects became difficult to implement, Galushka said.

One such project, called “Pobeda”, or “Victory,” would have involved Russian investments and supplies that could be exchanged for access to Korean natural resources.

“We told our North Korean partners more than once … that it hampers a lot, makes it impossible, it restricts things, it causes fear,” Galushka said, referring to the weapons testing.

Another joint project between the two countries is a railway link with North Korea, from the Russian eastern border town of Khasan to Korea’s Rajin.

It is operating but below its potential. The link could work at a capacity of 4 million tonnes a year, officials have said previously, but now it only carries around 1.5 million tonnes of coal per year, according to Galushka.

UN sanctions also prohibit countries from increasing the current numbers of North Korean laborers working in their territories.

According to Galushka, around 40,000 employees from North Korea worked in Russia. Mainly they are engaged in timber processing and construction.

Russian business is interested in access to the North Korea workforce, Galushka said, but the numbers will stay in line with what the sanctions permit.

He said 40,000 workers from North Korea “is a balance formed in the economy, neither more nor less.”

Bilateral trade between the two countries has been decreasing for the last four years, from $112.7 million in 2013 to $76.9 million in 2016, according to Russian Federal Customs Service statistics.

But it more than doubled to $31.4 million in the first quarter of 2017 in year-on-year terms. Most of Russia’s exports to North Korea are oil, coal and refined products.

Asked to explain why trade was rising if political issues were hurting commercial projects, a spokeswoman for Galushka’s ministry said in an email: “According to the latest data, there was an objective increase due to exports to North Korea, primarily oil products. But the export of oil does not violate the agreements of the UN countries in any way.”

The interview with Galushka took place before the U.S. imposed the sanctions targeting Russian entities and individuals for trading with North Korea.

Galushka’s ministry referred questions about the new sanctions to the Russian foreign ministry.

Maria Zakharova, a foreign ministry spokeswoman, told reporters Washington’s unilateral sanctions worsened tensions on the Korean peninsula, and that Russia is fulfilling its international obligations in full.

You can read more about the Russian investment projects in this former post.

NK News also reports that the ferry service between Rajin and Vladivostok has also been suspended, although the reasons for the suspension remain murky.

UPDATE: Following North Korea’s sixth nuclear test in early September, Vladimir Putin has signaled his unwillingness to sanction North Korean fuel imports (partially provided by Russia). You can read more in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Yonhap.

Read the full story here:
Russian-North Korea projects foundering because of missile tests: minister
Polina Nikolskaya and Katya Golubkova
Reuters
2017-8-28

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Ri Jong Ho, high-level defector and former official in Office 39, says North Korea gets much more oil from Russia than previously known

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

In a fascinating interview by Kyodo News’s Tomotaro Inoue, Ri Jong Ho, a former high-level official in Office 39 of the Korean Worker’s Party, makes several fascinating claims about the supply of fuel to North Korea:

North Korea secures up to 300,000 tons of oil products from Russia each year through Singapore-based dealers, a defector who formerly managed funds for the leadership has told Kyodo News, posing a challenge for the United States as it seeks to isolate Pyongyang.

“North Korea has procured Russia-produced fuel from Singapore brokers and others since the 1990s…It is mostly diesel oil and partly gasoline,” Ri Jong Ho, 59, a former senior official of Office 39 of the Workers’ Party of Korea, said recently in the U.S. capital in his first interview with media under his own name.

Ri also said North Korea relies more on Russia than China for fuel to keep its economy moving, indicating that the U.S. drive for Beijing to restrict oil supplies over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs will only have a limited effect.

“It is a wrong perception that North Korea is completely dependent on China,” he said.

Petroleum products have been shipped to North Korea by tankers leaving Vladivostok and Nakhodka, both in the Russian Far East, with the fuel widely used for cars, ships and trains, helping to support the North’s economy, Ri said.

Other sources familiar with the fuel deals said the petroleum products ending up in North Korea are often purchased by brokers who claim they are destined for China, with the items procured using forged paperwork.

Ri, who defected to South Korea with his family in October 2014, provided details of the activities of Office 39.

The secretive entity, said to have been established by former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in May 1974, is subject to international sanctions as the United States and other Western countries believe it is engaged in illicit economic activities and the management of slush funds for the leadership.

He said North Korea has been trying to reduce its economic reliance on China, Pyongyang’s most important benefactor, since leader Kim Jong Un issued an order to expand trade with Russia and Southeast Asian countries in August 2014.

The order followed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to South Korea a month earlier, during which he and then South Korean President Park Geun Hye expressed opposition to North Korea’s nuclear weapons development. It was the first time for a Chinese president to visit South Korea before traveling to the North.

Ri said the North Korean leader was “infuriated” by the visit, going so far as to call China an “enemy state,” and began taking measures to boost trade with Russia.

According to Ri, Office 39 has five central groups and systematically acquires foreign currency by sending laborers overseas as well as through gold mining and exports.

“It is an organization that manages the supreme leader’s coffers and the party’s funds to rule the country. It also leads trade activities to earn foreign currency,” Ri said. The office has enormous power as it is directly linked to the leadership and is independent of other government organs, he added.

Ri admitted that Office 39 has evaded U.N. sanctions by asking Chinese and Russian contacts to allow the use of their names for the opening of bank accounts for trade settlement.

The activities of Office 39 require the involvement of hundreds of thousands of people, including those in rural areas who produce items for export. Ri said the bureau is now headed by Chon Il Chun, first vice department director of the party’s Central Committee and a former classmate of Kim Jong Il, the current leader’s father.

A native of Wonsan on North Korea’s east coast, Ri was told to work in Pyongyang by the Central Committee in the mid-1980s. He operated a shipping company at Office 39’s Daehung group and later headed a trade control section in the group between 1998 and 2004.

The Daehung group earns revenue through farm exports and shipping operations, among other means. With exclusive rights to trade “matsutake” mushrooms and snow crabs, it was actively shipping those products to Japan before Tokyo imposed a total ban on trade with the North about 10 years ago.

The four other central groups are Kumgang, which dominates gold export activities, Daesong, involved in the shipment of processed products and intermediate trade overseas, Daesong Bank, in charge of the office’s banking operations, and a group dispatching workers to other countries.

Asked about the possibility that the foreign currency earned by North Korea is being used for its nuclear and missile development programs, Ri only said, “It is up to the supreme leader how to use the funds.”

North Korea receives 500,000 tons of crude oil each year through a pipeline from China, resulting in around 70,000 to 100,000 tons of gasoline and about 100,000 tons of diesel oil after refining, but the oil products are exclusively used by the North Korean army and are not good enough for cars that carry the elite, Ri said.

He also said crude oil purchased from other countries is refined by foreign companies based in China, leading to the importation into North Korea of an additional 50,000 to 100,000 tons of gasoline.

Full article here:
N. Korea procuring Russian fuel via Singapore dealers: defector
Tomotaro Inoue
Kyodo News
2017-07-28

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