As the UN Security Council voted to apply more economic pressure against North Korea on Monday, Russian smugglers have been shipping petroleum and other goods to the regime, US officials said in a Washington Post report.
The report published Monday night cited official documents that showed increased tanker activity between North Korean shipping ports and the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok.
Smuggled supplies included diesel fuel and other goods that the isolated country could not produce themselves. According to US law-enforcement officials, Russian entrepreneurs were creating front companies to hide their activity and launder funds.
In one case, a Singapore-registered real-estate management company with no known offices or webpage was “facilitating the laundering of funds for North Korea financial facilitators and sanctioned entities” by working with Russian partners to buy almost $7 million worth of diesel fuel. North Korean agents would then wire US dollars to the company, which in turn would pay a Russian supplier to make diesel shipments from Vladivostok.
“As the Chinese cut off oil and gas, we’re seeing them turn to Russia,” one senior official familiar with the smuggling operation told The Post. “Whenever they are cut off from their primary supplier, they just try to get it from somewhere else.”
News of the smuggling operations comes amid a unanimous vote from the UN Security Council in response to North Korea’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test on September 3. The new sanctions impose a ban on North Korea’s textile exports and caps crude-oil exports to North Korea.
The uptick in traffic between the two countries also coincided with previous UN sanctions that banned fuel shipments from a state-owned company from China. Facing pressure from the US and North Korea’s wary neighbors in South Korea and Japan, China agreed to apply more pressure to the Kim Jong Un regime.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin appeared to be reluctant in agreeing to increased sanctions on North Korea. Russian President Vladimir Putin called for more diplomacy and stressed that tinkering with North Korea’s oil supplies would have a detrimental effect.
“We, too, are against North Korea developing its nuclear capabilities and condemn it, but it is worrying cutting the oil pipeline will harm the regular people, like in hospitals,” Putin said during a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday.