Russia is trying to secure its political and financial interests by revising a U.S. drafted UN Security Council sanctions resolution on North Korea, experts said Wednesday about changes Moscow reportedly requested to it.
According to the requests, North Korean civilian flights would still be allowed to obtain jet fuel overseas – an exemption to a U.S. proposed blanket ban of aviation fuel sales to the DPRK – a final version of the updated resolution obtained by Japanese media outlet NHK said.
Russia also requested the exclusion of Jang Song Chol – a North Korean official suspected of being in charge of mineral trade with Russia – from the list of those sanctioned in the draft resolution.
Lee Chun-geun, senior researcher at Seoul’s Science and Technology Policy Institute, said Russia’s request is somewhat reasonable, even if North Korea may be able to produce rocket fuel from jet fuel as a result of the kerosene that both include.
“If a North Korean flight went to Moscow, it should fuel overseas to come back to the North,” Lee, an expert on North Korean technology, told NK News, citing the long range of such a flight.
“(But) it is possible to limit the amount of fuel oil to prevent appropriation to rocket fuel,” Lee said.
A diplomatic observer, who requested anonymity for professional reasons, implied Moscow’s political interests were behind the changes, allowing it to showcase its influence as a former superpower rather than for any practical benefit.
“With DPRK-China relations very strained, I suspect that Russia may be trying to take over China’s role as the protector of the DPRK in the UN,” the observer said.
Russia’s domestic demand for North Korean minerals is another factor behind the revision, another expert said. While Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin denied involvement in the removal of Jang from the list, both sides’ largest trade item is mineral resources.
“Imports of (North Korea’s) rare earth, iron non-ferrous metals have to be suspended. It is a mortal blow to Russia-North Korea cooperation,” Georgy Toloraya, director of the Center for Asian Strategy at the Institute of Economy of the Russian Academy of Science told NK News.
According to a KOTRA statement, published last month, Russia’s largest export item in 2015 was bitumen, which is usually used for thermal power generation in North Korea. As for 2014, mineral fuel and oil accounted for 41.36 percent of Russia’s total exports to North Korea, even though it decreased by 7.89 percent than the year before.
“It is not clear whether it is crude oil or petroleum, but oil is coming from Russia to North Korea continuously,” Lee Seok-ki, researcher from Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade, told NK News.
It is speculated the oil enters through Nampo port by vessel, Lee said. Pongwha refinery facility is located on the west coast of North Korea, where Nampo port is also found.
RUSSIAN FOOD AID
Meanwhile, the same day, Russia’s embassy in Pyongyang unveiled a donation ceremony at Nampo port, via its official Facebook page.
“Wheat was purchased with Russian Federation contributions to the World Food Program – about $4 million,” its posting reads.
In the social media post, Ambassador Alexander Matsegora was shown visiting a North Korean orphanage and kindergarten in Nampo city and photographed hugging a North Korean child.
Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) also reported the news, saying Russia’s support will improve the cooperation between the two countries.
“Food aid” has notably appeared only 16 times over the past five years in English language KCNA reporting, according to NK Pro’s KCNA Watch tool, indicating the dwindling levels of foreign aid assistance to North Korea.
Dr. Andrei Lankov, a longtime North Korea expert, said Russia can be counted on to prioritize the status quo in the DPRK, and that food aid can stabilize the region by feeding people.
“Geopolitically, Russia can consider North Korea a power which deters the influence of the U.S.,” he said.
Main Picture: Mr. Lavrov during the press conference. 18 December 2015 United Nations, New York