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Russia’s Cover up of Its Dangerous Dealings With North Korea Leaves Us All Less Secure

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Russia’s Cover up of Its Dangerous Dealings With North Korea Leaves Us All Less Secure

Moscow killed a U.N. body overseeing North Korea sanctions compliance for one simple reason: Russia is flagrantly violating the U.N. sanctions.

Russia’s Cover up of Its Dangerous Dealings With North Korea Leaves Us All Less Secure
Credit: Depositphotos

April 30 marked the final day of existence for the United Nations 1718 Committee Panel of Experts. For those unfamiliar with the inner workings of the U.N. Security Council, the occasion may have seemed like a matter of only minor technical import.

In reality, the panel’s demise, which stemmed from Russia’s March 28 veto of a resolution extending its mandate, laid bare an unfortunate reality of global affairs today: In pursuit of victory in its brutal and unprovoked war against Ukraine, Russia is willing to tear down the pillars of international peace and security, including long-standing efforts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery. In this, Russia has found an eager partner in the DPRK, often called North Korea, as well as a tacit one in the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

In recognition of the grave threat that the DPRK’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs pose to security in East Asia and the global non-proliferation regime more broadly, the members of the U.N. Security Council – Russia and the PRC included – previously came together to impose sanctions on the DPRK. Beginning with U.N. Security Council resolution 1718, which followed the DPRK’s first nuclear test in 2006, these sanctions sought to limit the DPRK’s ability to generate revenue and procure items for its weapons programs. The Security Council tasked the 1718 Committee and its Panel of Experts, created in 2009, with monitoring compliance with the sanctions, which are binding on all U.N. member states, and making recommendations to improve compliance.  

For 15 years, the Security Council extended the panel’s mandate without controversy.  This year, however, was different, and for one simple reason: Russia is flagrantly violating the U.N. sanctions, and it wants to silence objective, independent investigations into its actions. Desperate for weapons to use against Ukraine, Russia has acquired almost 11,000 containers of munitions and related materiel from the DPRK over the last seven months, as well as ballistic missile launchers and several dozen ballistic missiles that can reach deep into western Ukraine and beyond. And it has used these weapons repeatedly in strikes on Ukraine’s civilians and critical infrastructure.

Despite Russia’s pro forma denials, the evidence of these sanctions violations is there for all to see: The United Kingdom’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has released satellite images illustrating the movement by ship of containers likely packed with munitions from the DPRK to the Russian Far East for onward transport by rail to a Russian ammunition depot near Ukraine. And Ukrainian officials have recovered North Korean missile debris and made it available to outside investigators.  

Moreover, the arms transfers are only one part of the deepening partnership between the DPRK and Russia. Over the past year, we have seen DPRK leader Kim Jong Un visit the Russian Far East for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin and tours of Russian military sites, as well as visits by the DPRK foreign minister to Moscow and Russia’s defense minister and the chief of its external spy agency to Pyongyang. Last month RUSI also uncovered evidence that Russia was providing large consignments of oil to the DPRK, whose petroleum imports are subject to strict annual limits under U.N. sanctions, while the New York Times reported in February that Russia may be providing the DPRK with banking services to help it skirt U.N. financial sanctions.

Rather than answer for its actions or allow the panel’s investigations to continue, Russia simply eliminated the panel. And the PRC, despite its stated commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, abstained from the vote to extend the Panel’s mandate, standing by while Russia and the DPRK flagrantly violate the sanctions it helped put in place.

For the rest of us, the consequences of the DPRK and Russia’s actions and the PRC’s tacit support are far-reaching and deeply unfortunate. For the people of Ukraine, it means the continued onslaught of DPRK-made weapons, many of which are being used in combat for the first time. For the people of Europe, it means the intensification of the security threat that a revisionist, recalcitrant, and aggressive Russia poses to the continent’s security. For those in East Asia, particularly in the Republic of Korea and Japan, it means that the grave menace posed by the DPRK’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles will continue to grow. And for the world at large, it is a major blow to the global system for limiting the spread of nuclear weapons and their means of their delivery.

In the face of these challenges, those of us who seek to uphold peace and security in Europe, East Asia, and beyond must come together to firmly demonstrate to the DPRK, Russia, and the PRC that their efforts to undermine the global non-proliferation regime will not go unnoticed and will not be accepted.  While Russia may have ended the Panel of Experts’ oversight with its veto, the United States and our partners and allies remain steadfast in our commitment to continue exposing and disrupting DPRK-Russia arms transfers and other sanctions violations.