Demonstrating its traditional solidarity with Beijing over the Korean security crisis, Moscow has backed Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi’s plea for loosening economic restrictions against Pyongyang, made last week during a ministerial-level meeting at the UN.
That Moscow should support such measures should come as no surprise, given that Russian deputy foreign minister Igor Morgulov declared only weeks prior that the time had come for the UN Security Council to consider easing sanctions against the DPRK.
Morgulov’s comments come only months after he affirmed that while Russia did have an obligation to comply with UN punitive economic measures, it had no need to adhere to unilateral U.S. sanctions against North Korea.
Unilateral U.S. sanctions imposed against the DPRK have, in fact, affected Russia’s ties to North Korea. Thus even if the United Nations were to loosen restrictions placed on Pyongyang via Security Council resolutions, the U.S.’s own sanctions will likely remain problematic for Moscow’s hopes at closer economic cooperation with the DPRK.
Last August, Washington targeted the Russian company Profinet over trade with the DPRK. Later, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin, citing an executive order, announced that the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) blacklisted two Russian firms, Primorye Maritime Logistics and Gudzon Shipping over transfers of refined petroleum products to North Korea.
In response, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov described the U.S.’s continued application of sanctions as a “spiral” perpetuated by the American political elite, decrying what he saw as the United States’ lack of regard for the DPRK-Russia relationship.
Although the particular laws cited as the justification for applying the most recent sets of sanctions did not specifically mention Russia, there has nevertheless been a growing tendency for U.S. policymakers to draft legislation related to North Korea that simultaneously takes aim at Moscow.
Perhaps the most notable grouping of the DPRK and Russia under the same umbrella in an American policy context is the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.
The law devotes entire separate sections to North Korea and Russia, respectively. The Act’s provisions on North Korea, however in some cases specifically mention Russia in relation to sanctions compliance. In other cases the law contains guidelines for dealing with violations of US policies in areas that have been, in Washington’s view part of the growing ties between North Korea and Russia.
In addition to that law, there are other proposed pieces of legislation currently in the midst of the U.S. legislative process that mention Russia in the context of American policy toward the DPRK. Some of the bills currently under consideration by lawmakers include the North Korea Follow the Money Act as well as the North Korea Ballistic Missile Investigations Act.
These legislative proposals, both of which have been referred to the U.S. House of Representatives intelligence committee, call upon organs of the United States government to investigate and document instances where the Russian Federation has had a role in helping the DPRK procure materials illicitly or otherwise circumvent sanctions.
Another example of the U.S. policy community’s continued calls for action against Russia in light of the North Korea crisis is the Korean Interdiction and Sanctions Modernization Act. The bill, which has been referred to the U.S. Senate’s foreign relations committee, calls for U.S. authorities to monitor ports located in sovereign Russian territory for illegal activities involving North Korean vessels.
Unilateral U.S. sanctions imposed against the DPRK have, in fact, affected Russia’s ties to North Korea
Reactions to the tendency toward including Russia in American policy making on the DPRK are sure to be mixed. Depending on your perspective, Washington is either acting against Russian entities from a basis of legitimacy to enforce international sanctions, or is using the Korean security crisis as a pretext for continuing to attack Russia in it own right.
Defenders of American policy moves that seek to undermine ties between North Korea and Russia will likely cite how Russian individuals and entities have frustrated U.S. interests regarding the DPRK, particularly in terms of sanctions enforcement.
Subscribers to the latter viewpoint, however will likely argue that Russia’s more frequent inclusion in the U.S.’s North Korea sanctions policies are part of a larger American attempt to strike out against Russia using sanctions wherever possible.
For over four years the Russian Federation has been embattled in the face of increasingly stringent economic measures from the U.S. and its allies, even while the Kremlin puts on a defiant face before the world.
Moscow, therefore may increasingly take on the view that U.S. sanctions imposed against the DPRK are not simply part of the American effort at inducing the DPRK to disarm, but are also part of a wider plan to undermine Russia itself.
The U.S.’s targeting of Russia with DPRK-related sanctions and other legislative initiatives, as an addition to the existing blistering U.S.-led sanctions regime directed against Russia itself, will likely harden Moscow’s position against U.S. interests in the Korean security crisis.
If the U.S. decides to expand its pursuit of Russian entities and individuals who have violated existing provisions, the U.S. can expect Russia to be unwilling to cooperate with Washington in the wider Korean security context.
The Kremlin has, of course, consistently supported sanctions against the DPRK. Russian authorities have done so, however from anything but a position of partnership with the U.S. Moscow has largely followed the lead of its strategic partner Beijing when it comes to voting in favor of UN resolutions that punish North Korea’s behavior.
Support for sanctions at the UN notwithstanding, the Kremlin has been quite outspoken about its desire for closer economic cooperation with the DPRK. The current sanctions regime against Pyongyang, however has dampened the chances for DPRK-Russia trade relations to each their fullest potential.
As cooperation with North Korea is part of Russia’s wider Asia-Pacific strategy, Moscow may feel that the continued and increased targeting of Russian entities over sanctions violations (real or alleged) is part of a broader American effort to isolate Russia.
It’s likely an exaggeration to state that the U.S.’s economic instruments aimed at Pyongyang and its Russian partners will push the DPRK and Russia together to form an anti-American axis. There is no shortage of stumbling blocks in the Moscow-Pyongyang relationship that makes a DPRK-Russia symbiosis due to sanctions untenable.
It is also highly unlikely that, even without the rise in U.S. policies that simultaneously go after North Korea and the Russian Federation, Moscow and Washington would have enjoyed a cooperative relationship in the Korean security crisis.
Nevertheless, whether justified or not, expanding the scope of North Korean sanctions to include Russia will likely harden the Kremlin’s position in the Korea crisis vis-à-vis Washington.
With the spike in legislation – whether signed into law or undergoing the judicial process – that mentions Russia as an aid and abettor to the DPRK, it is unlikely that the U.S. government will reverse its negative views of Moscow in the context of the Korean crisis.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA)
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 1260 words of this article.