Russia resumed oil exports to North Korea late last year, according to UN data, as deepening ties between the isolated regimes prompted US warnings that Pyongyang planned to supply more weapons to support Vladimir Putin’s war effort in Ukraine.
Figures released by the United Nations this week showed that Russia supplied 67,300 barrels of refined oil North Korea between December 2022 and April 2023, the first deliveries were recorded from September 2020.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has been steadily courting Putin since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with the leaders offering each other material and political aid.
In a statement to mark Russia’s national holiday on Monday, Kim pledged his “full support” to Putin and called for “closer strategic cooperation” between their countries, North Korea’s state news agency said.
Kim added that he “firmly holds hands with the Russian president in accordance with the common wish of the peoples of both countries.”
The volume of Russian transfers to North Korea is a tiny part of its exports, which a year ago reached up to 8 million barrels per day, including crude and refined fuels. war in Ukraine.
But the trade points to a mutual efforts to strengthen closer ties between Moscow and Pyongyang, which quickly backed the invasion of Ukraine in February last year and was only one of four countries besides Russia to oppose a UN General Assembly resolution condemning the war.
The US State Department expressed concern this week that North Korea is “planning to supply more military equipment to Russia”.
She said the US has confirmed that North Korea has already completed a delivery of infantry rockets and missiles to the Wagner Group, a private military company linked to the Kremlin.
Any arms purchases from North Korea would violate UN resolutions to which Russia is a signatory as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
After North Korea’s sixth nuclear test in 2017, the UN Security Council imposed a cap on refined oil transfers to North Korea at 500,000 barrels per year, far below the country’s energy needs.
All transfers must be reported to the UN Sanctions Committee, but in practice only a small proportion are, and North Korea is known to evade sanctions illegal ship-to-ship transfers.
The UN data also showed that China, which has maintained steady supplies of refined oil to North Korea during the pandemic, delivered 35,669 barrels in January and February this year.
North Korean exports to China also hit a five-year high in April, according to Chinese customs data, suggesting Pyongyang he eased hard border restrictions According to UN data, oil trade from Russia to North Korea dropped to zero in October of that year.
Western diplomats fear an increase in North Korea’s cross-border trade with Russia and China will further embolden the Kim regime as it continues to advance its nuclear weapons program.
Moscow and Beijing have repeatedly blocked U.S.-led Security Council resolutions condemning Pyongyang’s ballistic missile program, most recently after the failed launch of a military spy satellite late last month.
More news from David Sheppard in London