Correction: A previous version of this article said the UN had yet to ban the sale of aircraft to North Korea, when in fact such provisions were added in December 2017. The article has been amended to reflect that fact.
Russia is actively pushing for the easing of sanctions on North Korea to allow, among other things, the country’s national carrier Air Koryo to purchase new commercial aircraft, the country’s ambassador to the DPRK Alexander Matsegora said in an interview with Izvestia published late last week.
Speaking to the Russian newspaper in Pyongyang, Matsegora said his country was “trying to influence and change the situation.”
“For example, we are now actively advocating that the DPRK be allowed to buy civilian aircraft. The country is in dire need of updating its fleet, but this is impossible” due to ongoing sanctions, he said.
Air Koryo currently operates mostly Soviet-era Russian planes made by Ilyushin and Tupolev, and is most recently known to have purchased new aircraft – its most modern – from Ukrainian company Antonov over five years ago.
Unilateral U.S. sanctions on Air Koryo passed in late 2016 effectively prohibit the sale of U.S.-made modern aircraft to North Korea.
The 1718 Sanctions Committee Panel of Experts (PoE) also found that Air Koryo operates under the North Korean military, and banned member states from selling various transportation vehicles, including aircraft, to North Korea under Resolution 2397 passed in December last year.
Under the provision, the country is still permitted to purchase “spare parts needed to maintain the safe operation of DPRK commercial civilian passenger aircraft.”
Matsegora also spoke on the negative effects international economic sanctions were having on his country’s economic relationship with North Korea, saying “trade between our countries has fallen by 70%, the volume [of losses] is now estimated in the millions of dollars.”
“Russia strictly complies with the requirements of the UN security Council,” he insisted. “This greatly affects our economic ties.”
He also acknowledged that North Korean laborers, which he called “one of the most important areas of our cooperation,” were still active in the country but falling in number.
“Since the adoption of the resolution (UNSC 2397) in December last year, the number of workers from North Korea, which used to be about 34,000, decreased to 11,000,” he said, adding Russia was interested in returning to the higher numbers of decades past.
As for Russia’s business inside North Korea, Matsegora said the Rason Special Economic Zone, “used to [receive] Russian coal, but currently the port is not operational.”
“Russian companies are simply intimidated by American threats,” he said.
Nevertheless, Matsegora said his country was still in support of UN sanctions as they pertain to reining in the North’s nuclear program, that Russia’s “position fully coincides with that of our American colleagues, and we are in favor of a nuclear-weapon-free Korean peninsula.”
The familiar point of contention, however, rests in the order of concessions, with Matsegora saying the North Koreans are “limited in their flexibility” and that “they can’t give up something without getting something in return.”
“As far as we understand, the American partners have not been able to offer them anything yet. But if this happens, the Koreans are ready to take very serious steps,” he added.
Russia, he said, is “ready to participate in the security guarantees of the DPRK. This is very important because our Korean friends have a sense of trust in us.”
“We clearly support the gradual easing of sanctions and their subsequent lifting.”
In the event relief does come, he said Russia and China are already actively working together and “have now developed and proposed a road map” – a likely reference to outcomes of the tripartite communiqué signed between the two along with North Korea in Moscow last month.
Following meetings between the vice-foreign ministers of the three nations in early October, a joint statement said it was “necessary to start a timely review by the UN Security Council of the sanctions measures against the DPRK.”
In his interview last week, Matsegora said “the situation is developing in line with our proposals.”
“We have always been and will always be here — politically and economically. We have big plans for joint economic projects that can give impetus to the development of the DPRK economy,” he added.
“I am sure that sooner or later these huge projects will be implemented. I have no doubt about that.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: KCNA
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