Almost all of the 11,490 North Koreans reported to have been working in Russia last year have now been repatriated in compliance with UN sanctions, a senior Russian diplomat told media on Wednesday.
Responding to a question from the Interfax news agency, Pyotr Ilyichev — who heads the Russian foreign ministry’s Department of International Organizations — insisted that Russia was in keeping with its requirements under UNSC Resolution 2397.
“If [DPRK] citizens stopped receiving income and their contracts were up before December… they either all left or will soon,” he told Interfax.
Should there be any North Korean workers remaining in Russian territory, he added, the reason was “purely logistic.”
“There are not enough flights to take everyone out,” he said.
Ilyichev’s remarks come few a weeks after a UN ban on DPRK citizens earning currency abroad came into effect, requiring all member states to have repatriated North Korean laborers working in their territory by December 22.
That ban, agreed to by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in December 2017, was intended to stem what is believed to have been a key source of funding for North Korea’s nuclear and missile program.
China and Russia had attempted a last-minute effort to reverse the measures, submitting a proposal at the UNSC that would have allowed the North Korean laborers to stay — a proposal swiftly rejected by the U.S.
But despite this high-profile opposition to the sanctions, Moscow has repeatedly stated its intention to comply with the new rules.
A sanctions implementation report submitted by Russia’s permanent mission to the UN in March last year reported that, in keeping with the sanctions, the country had deported 18,533 workers the previous year, leaving 11,490 remaining in its territory.
In the run-up to that deadline, too, North Korean national airliner Air Koryo was reported to have significantly expanded the number of flights operating between the North Korean capital and Vladivostok.
One analyst on Thursday, however, said that the Kremlin’s claims to be in full compliance with international sanctions ought to be “taken with a grain of salt,” pointing to recent data suggesting the country may simply be switching out workers visas for student or tourism visas.
“Technically it is probably true that the workers who were there prior to December 22 have left,” Anthony Rinna, an analyst on Russian foreign policy in East Asia for the Sino-NK research group and an NK News contributor.
“Moscow seems to be particularly keen to be seen as being in compliance with UNSCR 2397, but at the same time economic realities mean that North Korean workers cannot be easily replaced en masse,” he added.
But one Vladivostok-based expert disagreed, telling NK News that his impression is that almost all of the DPRK laborers have now left the far eastern city, long a hub for North Korean overseas construction business.
“There is no doubt that, at least, the majority of them have left, as far as I can see,” said Artyom Lukin, an international relations scholar at the Far Eastern Federal University, while adding that Russian claims of logistical challenges to worker repatriation were “likely true.”
Edited by James Fretwell