U.S. Accuses Russia of Violating Sanctions on N. Korea

Ambassador Nikki Haley (file image courtesy U.S. State Department)

Published Sep 18, 2018 6:38 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Monday, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley accused Russia of deliberately flouting U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korea's nuclear program, then working to hide its actions. 

"Russia is actively working to undermine the enforcement of the Security Council’s sanctions on North Korea. Its violations are not one-offs. They are systematic," she alleged in an address to the Council. "Russia has not simply looked the other way as its nationals and entities engage in activities explicitly prohibited by UN sanctions. Russia has engaged in a concerted campaign in the Security Council to cover up violations of sanctions, whether they’re committed by Russia or citizens of other states."

In pointed remarks, Haley noted the example of the Russian-owned tanker Patriot. She alleged that the vessel was captured on film transferring petroleum products to a North Korean-controlled, UN-blacklisted vessel in April. The Patriot is one of six vessels that the United States recently blacklisted for sanctions violations

"The Patriot helped the North Koreans evade sanctions by allowing them to obtain oil on the high seas without having to dock into a port since the North Korean boat was subject to a global port entry ban," she asserted. "Just this year, the United States tracked at least 148 instances of [North Korean] tankers delivering refined petroleum products obtained through illegal ship-to-ship transfers."

Haley did not specify how many of these transfers involved Russian vessels, but she suggested that the frequent violations have allowed Pyongyang to purchase four times the UN-permitted import cap for 2018. 

According to Haley, Russia's delegation to the Security Council attempted to remove information about the scope of North Korea's sanctions-busting from a monitoring committee report. In addition, Russia allegedly blocked UN sactions designations for Russian and North Korean vessels implicated in smuggling, and suppressed a section describing Russian violations in a Panel of Experts report on the status of the sanctions regime. 

"Russian corruption is like a virus," she said. "It is impeding our ability to achieve complete denuclearization in North Korea."

Russia's delegation denied that any violations have occurred. 

Broader pattern

Haley alleged that Russia's moves regarding North Korean sanctions were part of a broader pattern in Russian diplomacy and foreign policy. She cited the Kremlin's response to the use of chemical weapons by a Russian ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, as confirmed by the U.S. intelligence community; and the poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, UK. "Lying, cheating and rogue behavior has become the new norm," she said. 

Russia has consistently denied all foreign allegations related to these incidents. 

The UN has previously reported evidence that some of these activities may be interrelated - in particular, the alleged North Korean involvement in President Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons program, which has persisted despite extensive Russian involvement in Syria. In an open letter released in April, eight senior U.S. senators alleged that the trade in chemical weapons technology between the Syrian and North Korean regimes "clearly illustrates the complete disregard and lack of meaningful enforcement of sanctions by the international community as a whole, but in particular, by Russia and China." 

Russia denies that al-Assad's forces have used chemical weapons like chlorine gas and sarin in Syria. Instead, it contends that these attacks are "false flag" operations, perpetrated by al-Assad's opponents against their own people. Prior to an attack in April, Russia's ministry of defense forecast an upcoming series of "provocation" chemical weapons attacks on civilians, to be carried out by a conspiracy involving (variously) American special forces, anti-American terrorist group Al Qaeda, members of the Free Syrian Army and the aid group known as the White Helmets. 

Three weeks later, chlorine gas was used on civilians in the city of Douma, killing at least 40 and injuring 500. Western governments assessed that the Syrian government conducted the attack, and an independent reconstruction suggests that the delivery method was consistent with Syrian capabilities. The Trump administration responded to the gas attack by ordering U.S. Navy strikes on Syrian chemical weapons facilities.