North Korea recently began preparations to open new trade offices throughout Russia, a high-ranking source in the country told Daily NK last Friday.
According to the source, the new trade offices will help expand imports of Russian wheat flour and other processed foodstuffs North Korea needs, as well as energy products such as gasoline, diesel, and LPG.
He told Daily NK that North Korea’s Ministry of External Economic Relations, Construction Guidance Bureau, and other agencies that have long been involved in dispatching personnel to Russia are currently selecting cadres and working-level officials to dispatch to the country. They are also vetting regions in Russia where the new offices will be opened.
The source explained that North Korean authorities are planning to establish trade offices in six different areas of Russia. Regions likely to receive new offices include Vladivostok, home to many North Korean laborers, as well as Saint Petersburg and Moscow.
Traditionally, North Korea and Russia have not been ideal trade partners. China has been a better trade partner for North Korea given its more diverse and cheaper products than those found in Russia; meanwhile, North Korea produces little that Russia has needed.
However, bilateral relations have now grown closer than in the past. Russia not only faces shortages of weapons and cash due to the protracted war in Ukraine, but also needs allies in the international arena. North Korea, for its part, needs to expand imports of cheap oil and food due to severe economic troubles.
The U.N. Security Council has been unable to slap additional sanctions on North Korea for its recent series of ballistic missile provocations due to opposition from Russia and China. The international body has not even been able to issue a statement condemning the launches. Amid the “new Cold War” created through confrontation between the United States and China on one hand and Russia and the United States on the other, it looks increasingly likely that North Korea will attempt to break through international sanctions to diversify its import of refined oil products and acquire foreign currency.
A recent Daily NK investigation found that North Korea carried out a first round of vaccinations for trade officials and other trade-related workers in the city of Rason earlier this month. The vaccination campaign’s inclusion of the Rason region — the bridgehead for trade with Russia — appears related to North Korea’s plans to expand bilateral trade.
Daily NK also reported in August that North Korean authorities imported wheat from Russia in August, along with gasoline, diesel, and LPG in October. Daily NK further understands that gas prices in some family homes in Pyongyang have plummeted, with rumors circulating in the city claiming that North Korea “received enough gas from Russia to last until next March.”
In fact, there has been speculation inside North Korea that the country has received Russian food and oil in return for Pyongyang’s international support for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
During an emergency special session of the U.N. General Assembly on October 12, North Korea’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Kim Song, expressed open support for Russia, calling on the international community to recognize the results of referendums in four regions of Ukraine occupied by Russia, and the incorporation of those regions into Russia.
This article first appeared on Daily NK, which contacts multiple sources inside and outside North Korea to verify information. The Diplomat was not able to verify the claims independently.