Russia supplies oil to North Korea as UN sanctions regime nears ‘collapse’

Satellite images shared exclusively with the Financial Times point to ‘arms-for-oil’ trade between Pyongyang and Moscow


Russia has started supplying oil directly to North Korea in defiance of UN sanctions, further cementing ties between the two authoritarian regimes and dealing a new blow to international efforts to contain Pyongyang.

At least five North Korean tankers travelled this month to collect oil products from Vostochny Port in Russia’s Far East, according to satellite images shared with the Financial Times by the Royal United Services Institute, a UK think-tank.

The shipments, which began on March 7, are the first documented direct seaborne deliveries from Russia since the UN Security Council — with Moscow’s approval — imposed a strict cap on oil transfers in 2017 in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons tests.

“These oil deliveries constitute a full-frontal assault against the sanctions regime, which is now on the brink of collapse,” said Hugh Griffiths, a former co-ordinator of the UN panel that monitors sanctions on North Korea.

The vessels, which are North Korean-flagged and classified as oil products tankers, all visited the same berth operated by a Russian oil company at Vostochny Port, where they appeared to load.

Satellite imagery confirmed that two of the ships then travelled from Vostochny Port to the North Korean port of Chongjin, where they appeared to unload.

“The vessels we’ve seen at Russian terminals are some of the largest-capacity vessels in North Korea’s fleet, and the vessels are continually sailing in and out of the port,” said Joseph Byrne, a research fellow at Rusi. “Several of these vessels are also UN-designated, meaning they shouldn’t even be allowed entry into foreign ports, let alone involved in oil deliveries.

” The deliveries come after North Korea last August began supplying thousands of containers of munitions to Russia, which military experts argue have made a significant contribution to Moscow’s war effort in Ukraine. According to Rusi, Vostochny Port has also been used as a hub for Russian ships allegedly involved in arms trade between the countries.

“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,” said Griffiths.


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