Russian smugglers are illicitly supplying North Korea with contraband energy and goods, evading sanctions and ignoring concerns about the isolated Asian country’s nuclear tests, the Washington Post reported Monday.
“As the Chinese cut off oil and gas, we’re seeing [North Korea] turn to Russia,” the newspaper quoted an unnamed senior U.S. official with knowledge of alleged Russian smuggling into North Korea as saying on Monday.
Officials and experts reportedly noticed a sharp rise in supplies of Russian diesel and other fuels to North Korea starting in spring 2017.
The newspaper said a “dedicated ferry line” was launched between Russia’s Far East and North Korea to accommodate heavy traffic. The spike coincided with new UN sanctions and a ban on Chinese government fuel shipments in May, according to the Post.
The news comes as the UN Security Council ratified new sanctions against North Korea after its sixth nuclear test since 2006. The 15-member Council, including permanent members Russia and the U.S., unanimously passed the sanctions resolution on Monday banning textile exports and capping fuel imports.
The U.S. Justice Department and Treasury Department were reportedly motivated by Pyongyang’s increased trade with Moscow when it blacklisted four Russian citizens and one Russian company in August.
The Post cites U.S. court documents that describe a web of “front companies” formed by Russian citizens to specifically hide deals with North Korea.
A Treasury Department official points to China’s willingness to “increase the pressure” on North Korea and a lack of clarity on whether “the Russians are willing to go along with that,” the Post reported.
“Russia is now a player in this realm,” said Anthony Ruggiero, now a fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Washington think tank.