Russia Is Directly Supplying North Korea With Oil Amid Warming Ties, Defying UN Sanctions: Report

By Jace Dela Cruz

Mar 26, 2024 06:25 AM EDT

In another sign of warming ties between the two countries, Russia has reportedly begun supplying oil directly to North Korea in defiance of sanctions imposed by the United Nations (UN). 

TOPSHOT - This pool image distributed by Sputnik agency shows Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd L)and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (R) visiting the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Amur region on September 13, 2023, ahead of planned talks that could lead to a weapons deal.
(Photo : VLADIMIR SMIRNOV/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Russia Supplying North Korea With Oil

According to satellite images shared with the Financial Times by the UK think tank Royal United Services Institute, at least five North Korean tankers started traveling to Vostochny Port in Russia's Far East on March 7 to collect oil products.

These shipments mark the first documented direct seaborne deliveries from Russia to North Korea since the UN Security Council imposed a strict oil transfer cap. 

With Russia's approval, the UN Security Council sanctioned North Korea in 2017 over its nuclear weapons tests, which limits the country to only 500,000 barrels per year for both oil and petroleum products combined. According to FT, deliveries can also be deemed compliant if reported to a UN sanctions committee.

With their transponders switched off, the North Korean-flagged vessels, classified as oil products tankers, were all seen heading and loading at the same berth operated by a Russian oil company.

Satellite imagery shows two of the ships traveling from Vostochny Port to North Korea's Chongjin port, where they were observed unloading. 

READ NEXT: Russia-North Korea Partnership: What Kind of Weapons Technology Is Moscow Sending to Pyongyang?

Oil Tankers Sent to Russia Are the Largest-Capacity Vessels in North Korea's Fleet

Joseph Byrne, a research fellow at Rusi, told FT that the vessels seen at Russian terminals "are some of the largest-capacity vessels in North Korea's fleet" that continually sail in and out of the port.

He added that some of these ships are also UN-designated, which means they "shouldn't even be allowed entry into foreign ports, let alone involved in oil deliveries."

Rusi researchers estimated that the oil deliveries from Vostochny Port could amount to 125,000 barrels in just weeks. This figure is already a quarter of the annual permitted limit. 

Hugh Griffiths, a former co-ordinator of the UN panel that monitors sanctions on North Korea told FT that "what we can see now is a clear arms-for-oil bartering arrangement in open contravention of sanctions that [Russian president] Vladimir Putin signed off on personally, illustrating Russia's trajectory in recent years from international spoiler to outlaw state." 

The deliveries came days after South Korea's Defense Minister Shin Won-sik said that Pyongyang has already delivered millions of artillery shells to Moscow since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited Russia to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin last September.

In a press briefing on February 26, Shin revealed that around 6,700 containers had been delivered by North Korea to Russia that could carry over 3 million 152 mm artillery shells or 500,000 rounds of 122 mm.

Shin noted that the military supplies were sent to bolster Russia's war against Ukraine in exchange for food, more military technology, as well as raw materials and parts to manufacture weapons. Vostochny Port has also been reportedly used as a hub for Russian ships involved in arms trade between the two countries.

READ MORE: North Korea's Kim Jong Un Receives Car From Russia's Vladimir Putin in Another Sign of Warming Ties Between the 2 Countries

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