Speaking to reporters in New York last week, Russia’s ambassador to North Korea Alexander Matsegora said that regional governors in Russia had begun to comply with the UN’s most recent sanctions targeting migrant laborers from the DPRK.
UN Resolution 2397, passed on December 22, 2017, stipulates that member states must repatriate North Korean workers on employment contracts by December 22, 2019, and must also provide a midterm report after 15 months listing all North Korean nationals that were repatriated in the first year from the adoption date.
This measure adds to the provisions of a United Nations resolution passed on September 11, 2017, prohibiting countries from granting new work contracts to DPRK citizens currently employed in other countries.
Many North Koreans, it seems, would prefer to stay in Russia
AS CHINA CRACKS DOWN, RUSSIA STEPS IN?
The insistence that Russia is taking steps to comply with sanctions on DPRK laborers comes only weeks after the White House insinuated that the Russian Federation’s sanctions policies were softening the blow from China’s curbing of its support for Pyongyang.
The U.S.’s allegations emerged after intelligence services in Europe reported that Russia was assisting the DPRK with obtaining fuel shipments.
Soon after Ambassador Matsegora’s announcement, both English- and Russian-language media carried headlines stating that Russia had begun repatriating North Korean workers.
Regional authorities in Russia, however, moved to dispel misconceptions that DPRK citizens in Russia were being sent home immediately and against their will. Under the sanctions, North Koreans on valid work visas will be able to stay in Russia until the end of 2019.
Many North Koreans, it seems, would prefer to stay in Russia. The deputy head of the Russian Interior Ministry’s migration bureau stated that immigration authorities were receiving an increasing number of requests for permanent asylum.
North Korean workers are largely found in Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as in the Russian Far East, where they are important assets to the local economies.
In the Russian Far East, North Korean guest workers are especially valued in the provinces of Amur, Khabarovsk and Primorye. Specifically, North Korean citizens provide cheap labor at a time when Moscow has enacted a program of economically developing its Far Eastern territories, which have suffered from a stark population decline since 1991.
Leading the pack in Far Eastern regions employing DPRK citizens is Primorye, which borders North Korea and is home to the economic hub of Vladivostok. Primorye hosts almost one-third of the estimated 35,000 working in Russia. Most DPRK citizens living in the province on work visas are employed in the construction industry.
As the UN has moved to curb the employment of North Koreans, Amur quadrupled its quota of eligible foreign workers
THE KREMLIN VS THE PROVINCES
The legal affairs department of the Primorye provincial government recently stated that North Koreans working in the province would not be sent home before their legal period of sojourn had lapsed.
The Russian Ministry of Labor, however, recently rejected a petition from Primorye governor Andrei Tarasenko to make exceptions for nearly 10,000 North Korean workers over the course of 2018, in contravention of UN sanctions.
Following Primorye, the largest employers of North Korean guest workers in Russia’s Pacific territories are the provinces of Amur and Khabarovsk. In Amur, there are currently just over 700 North Koreans on work visas, more than half of whom work in forestry.
Just as the UN has moved to curb the employment of North Koreans, Amur quadrupled its quota of eligible foreign workers, partially due to increased opportunities for investment.
The Kremlin has little choice in the matter
The provincial ministry of labor in Khabarovsk province, meanwhile, has set a quota of just over 7000 foreign laborers. Bracing for the impact of the new regulations on hiring North Koreans, Chinese workers will fill around 6000 of the slots in the Khabarovsk quota on foreign employees.
Indeed, Chinese laborers in Russia have a long-standing presence. The Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China reached an agreement in 2000 on temporary Chinese labor.
Yet guest workers from China are not a perfect substitute for North Korean employees in the eyes of Russian hiring managers. Chinese workers are more expensive than migrant workers from the DPRK, and the labor pool of Chinese citizens working in Russia has fluctuated since the 2000 agreement.
Under the provisions of the December 2017 UN resolution, member states are required to submit mid-term and final progress reports for the two-year window of phasing out North Korean employees.
Experts have warned that, in addition to the damage the prohibition on employing North Korean laborers will do to the Russian Far East’s economy, it will be logistically difficult to repatriate all 35,000 North Korean workers on Russian soil even within the span of two years.
Despite these difficulties, the Kremlin has little choice in the matter. Failure to enforce the sanctions against North Korea would further Russia’s image as being a spoiler in international efforts at resolving the regional nuclear crisis.
In response to U.S. accusations that Moscow was assisting the DPRK in evading sanctions, Ambassador Matsegora asserted that if Russia voted for sanctions against Pyongyang at the UN, it made no sense why the U.S. was accusing Moscow of failing to comply.
Russia can hardly afford a growing humanitarian crisis in a country on its borders
That Russian authorities would provide a way for the DPRK to skirt sanctions imposed on the fuel trade, yet simultaneously take the initiative to comply with stipulations on guest workers, may seem confusing.
But separately analyzing the specific areas of DPRK-Russia economic ties, however, may more clearly explain Russian policies.
WHAT RUSSIA WANTS
Ambassador Matsegora has decried the worsening humanitarian situation in North Korea, and how UN sanctions are allegedly perpetuating it. Cutting into the DPRK’s fuel supply will undoubtedly affect the lives of ordinary North Koreans, even if the Kim regime is the prime target.
Moscow may selectively enforce sanctions against Pyongyang
Guest workers, on the other hand, secure a cash flow for the North Korean government but do not necessarily mitigate the general humanitarian state of affairs within the DPRK. Russian organizations employing North Korean workers have a pool of potential workers to draw upon from China and even Vietnam.
Although hiring North Korean citizens has proven to be the most financially lucrative option for Russian firms looking to employ guest workers from abroad, DPRK citizens are nevertheless replaceable.
What Russia can hardly afford, however, is a growing humanitarian crisis in a country on its borders. Thus, Moscow may selectively enforce sanctions against Pyongyang, depending on how much the effects of punitive economic measures will have blowback effects for Russia.
The effects of implementing UN Resolution 2397 will not be immediately apparent in either North Korea or Russia. Yet it seems that as the clock ticks toward the deadline for full compliance, Russian authorities have begun to take steps to implement the sanctions’ provisions.
The loss of income from the Russian Federation will undoubtedly inflict economic pain on Pyongyang. Unfortunately for the Russian Far East, the loss of North Korean workers will also prove to be problematic.
How Russia will adjust to and cope with the loss of so many guest workers, and even if Moscow will continue to follow through with its obligations under current UN sanctions, remains to be seen.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 1299 words of this article.
Featured Image: CPC_5350 3 by nknews_hq on 2016-10-01 17:17:47