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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
North Korean officials have requested Russia continue to provide jobs for the country’s overseas laborers despite sanctions requiring their repatriation at the end of this year, a lawmaker told Interfax News agency on Tuesday.
Representing A Just Russia as part of a multi-party delegation from the State Duma in Pyongyang over the weekend, Fedot Tumusov told Interfax the North Koreans had “naturally expressed their wishes so that people would be given jobs” in Russia.
“Naturally, this is one of the sources for solving economic and social issues — the issue of employment,” Tumusov added.
UNSC Resolution 2397, however, prohibits all member states – including Russia – from hosting North Korean workers in their territory after December 22, 2019.
The reported request follows repeated meetings in recent months between officials from the two countries over the issue of North Korean laborers working abroad in Russia.
Earlier this month, a Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs delegation including top Migration official Valentina Kazakova traveled to Pyongyang to discuss, according to the department, “resolving issues of temporary labor activity of citizens in the territory of our states.”
“Ways for further cooperation were outlined” in these meetings, according to an official report from the ministry.
Also in January meetings in Vladivostok, DPRK consul general Jo Sok Chol and Primorye Governor Oleg Kozhemyako met to discuss “an increase in the quota for attracting labor from North Korea to Primorye,” a local government report said.
Analyst on Russian foreign policy in East Asia for the Sino-NK research group Anthony Rinna told NK News on Tuesday the latest request in meetings this week “definitely goes to show the bind Russia is in.”
“On the one hand Russia is keen to comply with sanctions, yet its economy in part depends on the North Korean laborers,” he said, adding Russia may prefer to keep some workers “for practical reasons as well as a goodwill gesture to Pyongyang.”
If Moscow were to skirt the December deadline, however, “any DPRK citizens remaining in the country with the Kremlin’s complicity would place Russia in a tough spot internationally,” Rinna added.
As the State Duma delegation wraps up their trip to Pyongyang on Tuesday, another lawmaker also revealed to Interfax that a cross-border road bridge was also discussed extensively in a series of high-level meetings.
Kazbek Taisayev of the Communist Party of Russia said “the issue of building an automobile bridge … was raised at all levels, at all meetings where we were,” Interfax reported Tuesday.
“The bridge is simply necessary so that the trade turnover will increase, and the tourism business will develop at a different pace,” he reportedly said.
Set to be built near the existing Khasan-Tumangang rail bridge along the two countries’ narrow shared border, the road bridge has also been consistently discussed at major bilateral meetings in recent months.
In major economic and trade talks in Moscow in early March, the Russian side reportedly presented technical plans for the bridge, but said the two sides would need to further “discuss issues related to the design and [cost] estimate documentation,” according to RIA Novosti at the time.
It is unclear if any further deals were inked on the issue during the talks this week, though the Russian embassy in Pyongyang reported in a post to their Facebook on Tuesday at least some agreements were indeed made.
“Concrete agreements have been reached, the implementation of which was agreed to begin in the very near future,” the report said.
Details of the talks now emerging follow the revelation on Monday that North Korea had requested to be allowed to purchase commercial aircraft from Russia – another transaction currently prohibited under UN sanctions.
Delegation leader Sergey Neverov said North Korean vice foreign minister Im Chon Il “outlined several proposals” including “the purchase of 2 civilian passenger aircraft that will ensure the comfort and safety of DPRK’s international flights,” according to DumaTV.
The embassy in Pyongyang also reported on Tuesday of a separate delegation in Rason over the weekend from the Far East city of Nakhodka (in Primorye) – a further sign of ongoing close contact between the two sides.
The Nakhodka delegation reportedly visited the premises of a Russia-DPRK joint venture RasonConTrans in Rason and “familiarized themselves with the work of the industrial, social and cultural facilities of the city.”
Delegation head Boris Gladkikh “confirmed his readiness for further cooperation with Korean neighbors and invited the Chairman of the People’s Committee Rason Cho Jong Ho to visit Nakhodka at a convenient time,” the report added.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Eric Lafforgue