Report: Russia is Breaking UN Sanctions Limit on Oil Sales to N. Korea

North Korean product tanker
A North Korean product tanker (file image courtesy Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces)

Published May 2, 2024 8:14 PM by The Maritime Executive


Russia is breaking UN sanctions on North Korea in a new way, White House officials said Thursday. In addition to the Russian government's practice of importing ballistic missiles from North Korea, a clear sanctions violation that has been condemned by dozens of nations, Russia is also exporting far too much refined petroleum to the "hermit kingdom." The UN Security Council has imposed a 500,000-barrel-per-year limit on product exports to Pyongyang, but Russia is blowing past these guardrails, a spokesperson for the Biden administration said.  

In March, Russia dispatched tanker shipments totaling more than 165,000 barrels of petroleum products to North Korean seaports, Kirby said. It has the capacity to keep going at the same rate indefinitely, he told AP. 

According to the Financial Times, at least five tanker shipments from Vostochnyy, Russia to North Korea have been detected by satellite imaging since March 1. The North Korean vessels did not use ship-to-ship transfers to disguise the cargo movement, but sailed directly to a loading pier in Vostochnyy and back to their home port, analysts with the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) told the FT. 

Kirby connected Russia's apparent violations with its recent decision to disband a sanctions enforcement body. For the last 14 years, the UN had a panel of experts who were tasked with monitoring compliance with United Nations sanctions on North Korea's nuclear program. Russia used its Security Council veto to block the annual renewal of the panel at the end of March. This forced the monitoring group to cease operations, and its last day in service was Wednesday. 

At the time, U.S. Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood noted that the independent panel had begun reporting on Russia's "blatant violations of the UN Security Council resolutions" on North Korea. Russia is widely believed to be strengthening its defense trade ties with Pyongyang; in January, drawing on the panel's work, more than 50 countries signed a letter condemning Moscow's decision to buy, inport and use North Korean ballistic missiles on Ukraine.

"We are closely monitoring what Russia provides to the DPRK in return for these weapons exports," the coalition of nations warned in their letter.

Russia is not alone in facilitating this sanctions-busting trade. In February, a sanctioned Russian vessel with suspected links to North Korean weapons shipments was spotted at Zhoushan Xinya Shipyard, the biggest private ship repair yard in China. According to the UK's Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the vessel had recently been engaged in a series of voyages between North Korean and Russia's Pacific seaports. AIS tracking confirms that the vessel was still at the Chinese yard and broadcasting its location as recently as the end of April.